Pope Benedict XVI is to resign after declaring he is too old to carry on as head of the Catholic Church.

After almost 8 years in the Vatican, Pope Benedict will retire on February 28th.

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.          

In a statement, he 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...

"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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me."

Just 24 hours before the news broke, the Pope tweeted: "We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new."

Pope Benedict has been in office since April 2005 when he succeeded Pope John Paul II.

The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in the 15th century who stood down to end the Western Schism.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "The pope announced that he will leave his ministry at 8:00pm (7pm UK time) on February 28."

Edward Pentin, from the Catholic Herald, told Sky News: "It really is too early to say what his greatest achievement has been."

The pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals this morning.

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