The Pope cited his advanced age and diminishing health for no longer being able to fulfill his duties.
Pope Benedict said he is aware of the significance of his decision and made it freely, but not even his closest aides at the Vatican knew he was stepping down.
Monsignor Gene Driscoll at the Holy Catholic Church said he respects the pope for making such a difficult decision.
"He was a blessing to us and really pulled the church together in many trying times," said Driscoll. "I think that it's great that he had the wisdom and humility to step down."
The process of electing a new pope will start in early March so the next pope should be in place by Easter Sunday.