Pope Benedict to resign due to health reasons

Pope BenedictPope Benedict today surprised the world by saying he now lacked the mental and physical strength to cope with the demands of his ministry, becoming the first pontiff, since the Middle Ages to step down.

His aides were left "incredulous" by the surprise announcement.

The 85-year-old German-born Pope, a hero to conservative Catholics raised suspicion among liberals. He said he had noticed a deterioration of his strength over recent months.

According to a Vatican spokesman, the Pope had not resigned because of "difficulties in the papacy" and the decision had come as a surprise, which indicated that even his closest aides were not aware that he was about to quit. The spokesman added the Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation.

The Pope's leadership of 1.2 billion Catholics has been marred by a child sexual abuse crisis that tarnished the Church, an address that upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.

In a statement, the pontiff said in order to govern "...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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.