In an announcement that shocked Catholics around the world, Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday that he is stepping down as head of the Catholic Church.
When he ends his reign on February 28, Benedict, the first German pope in almost a thousand years, will become the first pontiff to step aside in almost six centuries, ABC News notes.
The College of Cardinals will meet in conclave in March to elect a new pope.
In his statement, Benedict conceded that his health was no longer sufficient to meet the demands of his office. Elected after the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Benedict was the oldest person ever chosen as pope.
At 85 years of age, the pope’s health had become a matter of speculation in recent months. He was reported to have suffered from joint degeneration and arthritis, and was spotted using a cane during some overseas trips. His brother had expressed worries over Benedict’s health in a recent interview with a German publication.
Benedict’s reign, just under eight years, will be one of the shorter pontificates in church history. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 to resolve a succession crisis.