Pope Benedict XVI shocked the Catholic world by resigning Monday, claiming his advanced age and failing health make fulfilling his duties difficult, the Washington Post reports.
Speaking in Latin to a private group of church officials, Pope Benedict explained his failing physical and mental health prevent him from adequately serving his office. His resignation – the first by a pope in over 600 years – will become effective on Feb. 28.
Pope Benedict has been criticized over the course of his eight-year reign by many for his opposition of homosexuality, remarks comparing Islam to violence, and failure by the Church to address child abuse by priests. Whether or not his successor will carry on his conservative agenda, or be more flexible to modern views, is still unknown Reuters reports.
Church insiders speculate new pope could be elected as soon as Palm Sunday, in order to preside over Holy Week festivities. Many in the church community have expressed wishes for the next pope to be from a developing country where Catholicism is growing. The secret conclave to elect the next pope is expected to begin in mid-March.