Pope Benedict XVI
02/11/2013 at 09:05 AM EST
The Pope will resign on Feb. 28, he said Monday, citing his lacking the strength to continue in his mission, the Vatican has confirmed.
The announcement had been totally unexpected, and was made during a small ceremony in the Vatican. The Pope delivered the message in Latin, and cited his "advanced age."
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 85, became Pope Benedict XVI
in April 2005, following the death of John Paul II
While resignations from the papacy are not unknown, this is the first to be taking place in the modern era. The last pontiff to resign was in 1415, when Gregory XII sought to end what was known as the Western Schism among several rivals for the papacy, reports The New York Times
In his statement, the Pope said: "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.
"I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
"However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
"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, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is."
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said at a press conference Monday that His Holiness would continue to carry out his duties until the end of the month and that his successor could possibly be elected by Easter, March 31.
Lombardi also said that Benedict would first retire to his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, in the hills outside Rome, before going to a monastery in Vatican City.