Pope Benedict XVI will resign at the end of this month following a shock announcement on Monday morning. He will be the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years. He will step down at 8pm on February 28 and a conclave will be held to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The 85-year-old announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals. He says his strength is no longer adequate to continue in office and that because of his advanced age and diminishing strength, he didn't feel he could continue.
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His official announcement read: "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."
"In order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me."
A Vatican spokesman confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI is not resigning because of any difficulties in the papacy.
The Pontiff, who has more than 1,500,000 Twitter followers despite having tweeted just 34 times, gave some hint of the impending changes when he tweeted yesterday: "We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new."
Previously known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was one of the oldest new popes in history when he was elected on April 19 2005, replacing Pope John Paul II.