Pope Benedict XVI surprised almost everyone by announcing Monday he was resigning, according to Reuters news agency which first broke the story.
He is the first pope to resign in almost six centuries.
Pope Gregory XII was the last to resign in 1415 to avoid a rift in the church.
Pope Benedict was on his way to retirement as a cardinal in 2005 when his close friend Pope John Paul II passed away. Sources say the only reason he didn't retire at the time was because he was chosen pope by his fellow cardinals.
He was 78 when he had decided to retire as a cardinal. He will be 85 when his resignation as pontiff becomes effective Feb. 28.
His successor will be selected by a two-thirds vote of the cardinals.
He gave as the reason for his resignation that he "no longer has strength to fulfill the duties of his office."
His brother told the German news agency DPA that a doctor had advised him not to make anymore transatlantic trips.
His brother George Ratzinger, who is also a priest, further said the pontiff had informed him of his decision several months ago, according to an article in today's Washington Post.
He was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was selected pope in April of 2005.
He is known as a cultured man who plays the piano and loves cats and designer shoes, according to an article in today's Los Angeles Times.
Father Jack McCone of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Wichita Falls, Texas, said, "He (the pope) had told us as he first became pope that he would do it as long as he was physically, spiritually and psychologically able to bear the weight of the office."
McCone made his comments during an interview with Channel 3, the NBC affiliate in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Pope Benedict XVI was born April 16, 1927 in Bavaria Germany and once served as the Archbishop of Munich, Germany. His father was a police officer.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York is the only American who has a chance at becoming the next pope, according to an article in today's New York Daily News.
Cardinal Dolan said that he thought the pope had done a "splendid" job, according to the Daily News.
Reuters News Agency quoted German chancellor Angela Merkel as saying she had "the utmost respect for his decision."
The German government issued a statement saying it was "moved and touched" by the news.
President Barack Obama said of the pope, "I have enjoyed our work together."
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