Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28, his spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told CNN on Monday (Feb. 11).
In a statement, the 85-year-old pope said he had noticed his strength deteriorating and "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."
Benedict is the 265th pope and the sixth German to serve as pope – he was 78 when he was elected pope in 2005. He has led the church after the third-longest papacy in church history and during a time in which the church is declining in his native Europe but expanding in Africa and Latin America.
As leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict has been the leader of the institution's crusade against LGBT equality, specifically in terms of opposing recognition and civil support for same-sex couples and their families.
Most recently, in a New Year's speech, the pope called gay marriage a threat to world peace.
A year ago, in another statement, the pope, whose election was opposed by liberals in the church, said gay marriage threatened the "future of humanity itself."
Lombardi told the AP that Benedict will move to the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo following his resignation, then return to Rome to live in a monastery of cloistered nuns inside the Vatican for a period of prayer and reflection.
Lombardi said the pope made his decision to resign “aware of the great problems the church faces today.” He also said that “we should have a new pope for Easter.”U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., issued a statement later on Feb. 11. The conservative congressman said, "I was surprised by Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement. But I consider it another sign of his humility and good sense. His pontificate has been a blessing to the world. He’s promoted peace and understanding among the world’s religious faiths. He’s defended the dignity of the human person and the universal right to religious liberty. And he’s been a strong advocate of the poor, the powerless, the unborn, the sick, and the elderly/"
The conclave of cardinals that will elect a new pope will likely convene in mid-March.
A pope has not resigned since 1415.
The pope's statement:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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 fulfill 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.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI