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The Vatican confirmed this morning that Pope Benedict XVI will resign his position as head of the Catholic Church later this month. According to a statement personally given by the Pope to his fellow bishops, "my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," so he will take the unusual step of leaving the job before his death. He would be the first Pope to resign from office since Gregory XII in 1415. His resignation will be effective at the end of this month, on February 28.

When Benedict XVI became the Pope in 2005, at the age of 78, he was one of the oldest men ever elected to the postion. Now 85, there have been reports about his deteriorating health, but as noted above, the idea of a Pope retiring before his death is nearly unheard of. The office will remain vacant from February 28 until the College of Cardinals can meet to select a replacement.

While there is no official "short list" for papal replacements, there are several names have been passed around. Michael Brendan Dougherty at Business Insider, profiled some of the most likely candidates last year.

Here's the full text of the Pope's statement:


"Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, 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 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, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

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