The pope's decision makes him the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years. A conclave to elect a new pope will take place before the end of March. The 85-year-old pope announced the decision to resign in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals."After having repeatedly examined 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," he said. "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.
Pope Benedict XVI was the oldest pope to be elected at age 78 on April 19, 2005. He was the first German pope since the 11th century and his reign will rank as one of the shortest in history at seven years, 10 months and three days.
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415.