In a brief report on Italian news agency ANSA this morning, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would resign on February 28. It's believed he is resigning due to poor health.
Rumours that 85 year old Pope Benedict XVI who has been in office since 2005 immediately started trending on Twitter with the hashtags #pope #pape and #vatican.
News of the resignation was reported in the Daily Telegraph but details were scant saying there was no immediate announcement from the Vatican.
The BBC said the Pope would resign at the end of February referring to "an entirely unexpected development." According to the BBC the Vatican has confirmed the Pope's resignation.
Pope Benedict became head of the Roman Catholic Church in April 2005 following the death of John Paul II.
Full reasons have not yet been given for the Pope's shock resignation although it is believed the Pope has advised Cardinals of his decision. If Pope Benedict XVI resigns then he would be the first Pope in modern times to demit office for reasons other than death.
The Financial Times says Pope Benedict no longer felt sufficiently fit to carry out his role as leader of the world's 1 billion or so Roman Catholics. It reports Pope Benedict having said in a message to cardinals:
“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."
Pope Benedict will be the first Pope to abdicate since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Although the resignation of a Pope is unusual, according to Die Weld (De.), it is permitted under Canon Law. A Pope's resignation is governed by Canon 332, paragraph two of the Canon Law which provides that a Pope can resign whenever he wants, without having to request permission from anyone.
As news of Pope Benedict's announcement began to filter through, world leaders began to give their reaction. France's President Hollande, according to France 24, called the Pope's resignation "highly respectable".
Later BBC News reported that a Vatican spokesman had said Pope Benedict's decision had left aides "incredulous" but that the Vatican expected a new Pope to be installed before end of March. The Vatican spokesman also confirmed Pope Benedict XVI was not resigning because of any difficulties in the papacy.