The Pope is to resign his office after declaring he was too old to carry on as head of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI will quit on February 28, the Vatican said today, adding the announcement was a surprise.
A Vatican statement said the pope was unable to continue in office due to his age and diminishing strength, he is 85, and the papacy will remain vacant until a successor is elected.
He is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The Pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals this morning.
Eileen Coles, of the Roman Catholic Press Office, said: "It is with great sadness that we learn that His Holiness has had to resign after an examination of conscience and taking into account matters of health."
More top news
Friday night's forecast for the east of the region
Simon's Blog - Animal Magic
Fresh calls for the Government to think again on school funding, as headteachers in the south say they're struggling to balance the books