In a stunning announcement today (Monday), Pope Benedict XVI announced he will be resigning from his post as the leader of the Roman Catholic church in just a matter of weeks. In a statement during a meeting of Vatican Cardinals, the 85-year-old pontiff admitted his decision to resign as of Feb. 28 would be met with surprise, but reveals his strength has been deteriorating recently. "I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," Reuters quotes the German-born Pope as saying. “After having repeatedly examining 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."
Pope Benedict's resignation is the first time a Pope has excused himself from the role since the Middle Ages -- more than 600 years ago. "Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter," he said according to a statement from the Vatican. Pope Benedict has held the position since 2005 when he was elected following the death of Pope John Paul II.
Pope Benedict's resignation came during a meeting of Vatican Cardinals today and reportedly not only shocked the world, but also stunned those closest to him. BBC reports even papal aides did not know Pope Benedict XVI would be resigning quoting a Vatican spokesperson as saying aides were left "incredulous." His brother, however, says Pope Benedict has been considering stepping down for months after doctors advised him not to travel overseas and to get more rest.
A new Pope is expected to be elected by Easter. Pope Benedict is not expected to take part in the conclave to elect a new Pope.