The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI will step down at 7pm Irish time on 28 February for health reasons.
The 85-year-old pontiff said he is stepping down because he does not have the strength to continue in office due to his advanced age.
“For this reason, and 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.
The Vatican said the papacy will be vacant until a successor is chosen.
A spokesman said the pope “took us by surprise” with his announcement.
An official said the Vatican expects the period between 28 February and the election of a successor to be “as brief as possible”.
Pope Benedict is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years.
He made the announcement in Latin at a canonisation ceremony in the Consistory Hall this morning.
The Vatican said the Pope’s resignation is in fully compliance with church law.
The German government said it was “moved and touched” by the announcement.
“As a Christian and as a Catholic, one can’t help but be moved and touched by this,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
“The German government has the highest respect for the Holy Father, for what he has done, for his contributions over the course of his life to the Catholic church. He has been at the head of the Catholic Church for nearly eight years.
“He has left a very personal signature as a thinker at the head of the Church, and also as a shepherd. Whatever the reasons for this decision, they must be respected,” Mr Seibert added.
Source RTE News.