Pope Benedict XVI to resign citing poor health

Pope Benedict XVI is to resign at the end of this month after nearly eight years as the head of the Catholic Church, saying he is too old to continue at the age of 85.

The unexpected development – the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years – surprised governments, Vatican-watchers and even his closest aides.

The Vatican says it expects a new Pope to be elected before Easter.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005 after John Paul II’s death.

A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that even Pope Benedict’s closest aides did not know what he was planning to do and were left “incredulous”. He added that the decision showed “great courage” and “determination”.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is quoted as saying he was “greatly shaken by this unexpected news”.

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily