Vatican City - Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will resign on 28 February, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.
The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning.
He said that because of his advanced age and diminishing strength, he didn't feel he could carry on the job.
"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," he said according to a statement from the Vatican.