Pope was feeling burden of his age, says brother
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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.