Pope was feeling burden of his age, says brother
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Under the German's meek demeanour lay a steely intellect ready to dissect theological works for their dogmatic purity and debate fiercely against dissenters.
After appearing uncomfortable in the limelight at the start, he began feeling at home with his new job and showed that he intended to be Pope in his way.
Despite great reverence for his charismatic, globe-trotting predecessor — whom he put on the fast track to sainthood and whom he beatified in 2011 — aides said he was determined not to change his quiet manner to imitate John Paul's style.
A quiet, professorial type who relaxed by playing the piano, he managed to show the world the gentle side of the man who was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer for nearly a quarter of a century.
The first German pope for some 1,000 years and the second non-Italian in a row, he travelled regularly, making about four foreign trips a year, but never managed to draw the oceanic crowds of his predecessor.
The child abuse scandals hounded most of his papacy. He ordered an official inquiry into abuse in Ireland, which led to the resignation of several bishops.
He confronted his own country's past when he visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Calling himself "a son of Germany", he prayed and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims, most of them Jews, died there during World War Two.
The pope's brother said he had known "for a few months" that Benedict XVI was planning to resign and confirmed that the 85-year-old pontiff was "feeling the burden of his age".
Georg Ratzinger added, "He knows the demands of his office. I think his decision is correct. It is a positive thing that he is handing over the office to younger hands."
He also confirmed that Benedict XVI would remain in Rome.
World political and religious leaders expressed surprise but respected the pope's decision.
Describing the decision as "eminently respectable", French President Francois Hollande said his country, where the vast majority are Catholic, "hails the pope who took this decision".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had the "greatest respect" for the German-born pope's "difficult" decision.
"He is and remains one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time," Merkel added.
Major events in his ministry
April 19: German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is elected to succeed Pope John Paul II as the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He chose the name Benedict XVI.
November 29: The Vatican imposes restrictions on homosexuals becoming priests.
September 9-14: The pope visits his Bavarian homeland. In a speech on September 12 in Regensburg he sparks protests from the Muslim world by quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said Islam had only brought evil to the world and was spread by the sword. Days later, Benedict says he was "deeply sorry" about Muslim reaction to his speech, which he said was misunderstood.
November 28-December 1: Papal trip to Turkey is a fence-mending visit including prayers with Istanbul's grand mufti facing Mecca at the city's Blue Mosque.
July 7: Pope issues a declaration allowing the old Latin Mass to be celebrated more widely, a key demand of church traditionalists.
February 5: Pope changes a Latin prayer for Good Friday services by traditionalist Catholics, deleting a reference to Jews and their "blindness" but still calling for them to accept Jesus.
January 24: Pope causes uproar by lifting ex-communications of four ultra-traditionalist bishops, including a Holocaust denier.
November 6: Benedict arrives in Spain for a two-day visit. He attacks abortion and gay marriage, recently legalized in Spain, in a Mass to consecrate Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia church in another pointed criticism of what he called Spain's "aggressive secularism".
July 25: The Vatican recalls its ambassador to Ireland following
an unprecedented rebuke of the Holy See by the Irish parliament in the wake of a report that accused church authorities of covering up sexual abuse.
January 6: Benedict names 22 new cardinals, increasing the chances the next pontiff will be a conservative European.
October 6: A Vatican court finds Benedict's former butler guilty of stealing sensitive documents and sentences him to 18 months in jail
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