First time in 600 years, ailing Pope 'retires'

FP

Philip Pullella

Pope Benedict surprised the world Monday by saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to cope with the demands of his ministry, becoming the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages and leaving his aides "incredulous".

The 85-year-old German-born Pope, hailed as a hero by conservative Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, said he had noticed that his strength had deteriorated over recent months.

In a statement, the Pope 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... Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter."

In recent months, the Pope has looked increasingly frail.

The pontiff would step down on February 28. A new pope will probably be elected by the end of March.

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