The Vatican made a surprise announcement Monday that Pope Benedict XVI will step down on Feb. 28, the New York Times reports. The 85-year-old says he no longer has the strength to fulfill the role as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
"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," the pontiff's statement said.
The Wall Street Journal reports a new pontiff is likely to be installed by Easter. A spokesman says Pope Benedict has no fear that his resignation will lead to a schism in the church.
According to his official biography on the Vatican's website, Pope Benedict received an "Honoris Causa" Doctorate in 1984 from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
Don Briel, a Catholic studies professor at that same school -- now the University of St. Thomas -- tells WCCO radio that Benedict, at 78, was the oldest person elevated to the papacy since the 18th Century.
Pope Benedict will be the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. CNN notes the last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.