(CBS/AP) - Vatican officials said Monday that Pope Benedict XVI had announced to his senior clergy that he would resign his position as the head of the Catholic Church on February 28, according to news agency reports.
Benedict has dealt with health issues for some time, and the 85-year-old announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals Monday morning, according to the Associated Press.
He said that because of his advanced age and diminishing strength, he didn't feel he could carry on the job, the AP said.
Reuters quoted the Pope as saying he was "fully aware of the gravity" of his resignation.
The 265th Pontiff, Benedict would be the first leader of the Church to step down voluntarily in almost six centuries. He has led the Church since 2005 through a tumultuous time that has seen him criticized for his handling of the scandal related to years of sexual abuse of young parishioners by priests and other clergy, and senior church officials' alleged moves to hide those actions.
Benedict's decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The following is a transcription of part of the remarks Pope Benedict made in Latin to his cardinals on Monday morning, which was released to the media by the Vatican, according to Reuters:
"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."