For the first time in six hundred years, a Pope is resigning.  Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he is stepping down at the end of this month and cited health problems as the reason. The 85 year old Pop announced the decision this morning at a meeting of Vatican Cardinals. Pope Benedict XVI was elected Pope at the age of 78 and was the oldest person to have been elected Pope since Pope Clement XII in 1730. According to the Vatican, the Pope told Cardinals:

"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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

In a statement, the pope said his

“strength of mind and body” had “deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Pope Benedict was elected on April 19, 2005.  His papacy will end on February 28, 2013. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, who left the papacy in 1415 to end what was known as the Western Schism among numerous competitors for the papacy.

No doubt Pope Benedict's announcement is sure to plunge the Roman Catholic world into frenzied speculation about his likely successor and to evaluations of a papacy that was seen as both conservative and contentious.