Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he will be resigning from his post on Feb 28, as he no longer has the strength to fulfill the required duties.
The 85-year-old pope said he had noticed that his strength had deteriorated over recent months "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," he said according to a statement released by the Vatican.
The office will be left vacant until a successor is chosen, a Vatican spokesman said.
Benedict will be the first leader of the Church to step down voluntarily in almost six centuries.