Pope Benedict the 16th announces resignation
Pope Benedict the 16th said he plans to step down at the end of this month because of his deteriorating physical strength.
It's a move that hasn't happened in the Roman Catholic Church in more than 700 years.
And it is likely to pave the way for a new pontiff by Easter.
In a speech in Latin to cardinals, the 85-year-old German pontiff, who has been in office since April 2005, said that leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics was a job that required strength of both mind and body.
The Vatican said the surprise resignation would take place at 3am on the 28th of this month.
World political leaders have expressed surprise but respect for Pope Benedict's shock announcement.
Describing the decision as "eminently respectable", French President Francois Hollande said his country hails the pope who took this decision.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the pope will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself the daughter of a pastor, said she had the greatest respect for the German-born pope's difficult decision.
Pope Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927 in the predominantly Catholic southern German region of Bavaria.