Vatican Shocker: Pope to Resign for the First Time in 600 Years

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Photo: Franco Origlia/2012 Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world by announcing he will step down as the leader of the Catholic Church at the end of the month, citing ill health. "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," the 85-year-old pontiff said.

The pope's brother, Georg Ratzinger, said Benedict "had been advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips," contributing to his decision. Rumors that the pope might resign because of his health have existed since at least 2011.

The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415, to end a civil war within the church. Prior to that, the last pope to willingly resign was Pope Saint Celestine V, who abdicated in 1294. Benedict visited Celestine V's tomb in 2011, which some Vatican watchers interpreted as a sign that he might someday follow suit.

A papal conclave of the church's cardinals will convene in February to elect the next pope. Possible front-runners include Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, along with the conservative Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. British oddsmaker Ladbrokes has Turkson as the 5/2 favorite.