Pope Benedict to step down because of 'advanced age'
Pontiff 'aware of seriousness of this act'11 February, 14:19
The 85-year-old German pontiff said he was "well aware of the seriousness of this act" but felt he lacked the necessary mental and physical strength to continue.
"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," Benedict told a meeting of cardinals.
"I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
"However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, 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 fulfill the ministry entrusted to me".
Benedict is the first pope to resign in modern times and Monday's announcement stunned the world.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said even he was taken aback by Benedict's decision.
"The pope took us a bit by surprise," Lombardi told a press conference.
Italian cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, said that Pope Benedict XVI's announcement was a "bolt out of the blue".
Italian Premier Mario Monti was stunned."I am very shocked by this unexpected news," Monti said. Monti said he had no "signs or hints" of the impending decision during recent meetings with the pope.
At 78, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest new popes in history when he was elected in 2005 following the death of John Paul II. Benedict said the pontificate would be vacant as of 20:00 Italian time (19:00 GMT) of February 28 and that he had called a conclave to elect his successor. "Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects," Benedict told the cardinals.
"And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.
"With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer".
Lombardi said that the pope had carried out all of his functions, but that those near the pontiff had noticed "he had become more tired and fatigued than in the past".
There have been other cases of popes leaving the post.
In 1294 Pope Celestine V abdicated five months after being elected. Benedict IX left the post in 1045 and his successor, Gregory VI, also stepped down the year after.
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. He stood down to help end the Western Schism, in which two rival claimants had declared themselves pope in Avignon and Pisa.