VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict is stepping down on Feb. 28, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
The 85-year-old pope says he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties.
The surprise announcement came today during a meeting of Vatican cardinals. It sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for world's 1 billion Catholics.
Benedict says that carrying out the duties of being pope requires "both strength of mind and body." And he says he has concluded that his strengths "are no longer suited" to doing the job adequately.
The Vatican says no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision. In recent years, the pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences. His 89-year-old brother says doctors had recently advised the pope not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips.
Benedict had made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job.
When he was elected in 2005 at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years and had been planning to retire to his native Bavaria.
172-a-14-(Ray Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, in AP interview)-"for the job"-Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn says he is not surprised Pope Benedict has decided to resign. (11 Feb 2013)
<<CUT *172 (02/11/13)>> 00:14 "for the job"
178-a-16-(Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York archbishop, in interview)-"by stepping aside"-New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan says he is sad, but has a lot of respect for Pope Benedict for deciding to resign. COURTESY: NBC's "Today" show ((mandatory on-air credit)) (11 Feb 2013)
<<CUT *178 (02/11/13)>> 00:16 "by stepping aside"
181-r-22-(Pope Benedict, addressing Vatican cardinals in Latin)--In Latin, Pope Benedict tells cardinals his strength has given out in recent months. (11 Feb 2013)
<<CUT *181 (02/11/13)>> 00:22
182-r-28-(Sound of Pope Benedict XVI, praying in Latin with music and response from other male voices, at meeting of Vatican cardinals)--Sound of Pope Benedict praying in Latin with music and response from gathered Vatican cardinals, after announcing his resignation. COURTESY: Vatican TV ((mandatory on-air credit)) (11 Feb 2013)
<<CUT *182 (02/11/13)>> 00:28
167-v-33-(Sandy Kozel, AP correspondent)--Pope Benedict's decision to resign sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. AP correspondent Sandy Kozel reports. (11 Feb 2013)
<<CUT *167 (02/11/13)>> 00:33
GRAPHICSBANK: Pope Benedict XVI, over textured Vatican flag, lettering "RETIRING 28th FEBRUARY", finished graphic (11 Feb 2013)
APPHOTO VAT133: FILE - This April 24, 2005 file photo shows Vatican master of Ceremonies Archbishop Piero Marini, not pictured, adjusting the skullcap of Pope Benedict XVI during his installment Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI said Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and on Feb. 28 will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign. The announcement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for world's 1 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, files) (24 Apr 2005)
<<APPHOTO VAT133 (04/24/05)>>