Pope Benedict XVI Resigns Due to Health

The leader of the Catholic Church has announced he will resign after February 28, 2013.
2:22 | 02/11/13

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Transcript for Pope Benedict XVI Resigns Due to Health
Huge headline right now we see Pope Benedict the sixteenth just moments ago. Making this historic announcement he's speaking in Latin to a group of cardinals. And announcing his resignation after having repeatedly examined my conscience before god he said. I've come to the certainty that my strengths due to advanced stage are no longer suited to an adequate exercisable at trying ministry. I am well aware that this ministry due to its -- spiritual nature must be carried out not only -- words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering. The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory the twelfth that was almost 600 years ago. -- and Atlantic's decision to resign sets the stage of course for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new Pope by mid march. That would mean a new Pope would be in place just before Easter. -- Wednesday the beginning of lent the forty day period leading up to Easter begins this week. So of course is a crucial probably the most important forty days in the Catholic -- Significant spiritual -- that's right let's bring in Dan Harris for more on this right now has -- -- his religion for ABC news. And even though there's been speculation for some time that the -- was in failing health this is still something a surprise. The Vatican officials holding a briefing just now saying they were in fact very surprised by this but as you say there were some signs the Pope himself admitting that at times in recent months. He'd been tired and then fact at one point he said that he was in the final leg. Of the path of my life and it 2010 he fueled some speculation around the possibility of resignation when he wrote in his book. That light in at the book with the light of the world he said what if he no longer felt physically psychologically and spiritually capable. -- carrying out the duties of office the right and in some circumstances the obligation is. To resign still -- highly unusual move is Elizabeth said it hasn't happened almost six. Hundred years the key phrase in the pope's comments this morning city is making this decision and announcement with full freedom. And the Vatican emphasizing that point this morning because you hit in the history of this church and -- Very long history of this church there -- concerns over time that post will be forced to resign pressure to resign. So this Pope emphasizing quite strongly this morning he's doing this of his own. Free will and so much of this papacy over the last eight years. Dealing with the fallout of the sexual abuse scandal worldwide there is no question this is an issue that has threatened to define. His pay to -- there have been questions renewed questions. While he's been serving about how he handled this issue when he was archbishop in Germany and when he was a top Vatican official under the prior -- In 2000. Eight in April 2008 he came -- United States. I covered that visit to me he met personally with -- victims of sexual abuse here in the United States a very emotion. Clinton -- should be covering this all day long estranged father John walk he's on the phone right now and Opus Dei priest. And a professor of literature at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome father -- thank you. For joining us this morning your first reaction. -- -- Father -- your first reaction to this news. Father walk -- -- George Stephanopoulos here in New York I was just wanted to get your initial reaction. To the news the Pope Benedict has resigned. Obviously. But it's a great surprise. For the whole church prepared when Nevada and I heard the -- -- -- -- Thought. This -- it's not completely surprising given. What the Pope had already written about the possibility. -- resigning and it's clear that. In terms it is. Mental capacity issues and -- excellent shape he's very sharp. And excellent when he says he's taking it and making this decision -- full freedom. It's clear that that's not the case you what makes. -- -- one believe that this is an act if he's taking out of a sense of responsibility. And love for the church. And setting such a significant precedent in some ways because in modern times at least. Many -- taken the position that this is an opposite could not be resigned. I think that. -- the phrase in the -- statement -- vote should awareness. His role is one that's above all spiritual and carried out also -- suffering. It was meant to respond to that that he he's well aware. What John Paul the second difference sentence which was stay in office and -- -- very and suffering physically. And an -- and public way it was perfectly legitimate -- is. That given -- finished a mobile. And as you look back over -- -- is such that he thought it. There's -- no more excuse me and as you look back over his papacy what will he be remembered most for. I think that aren't going to be remembered above all. And the people treated it and cyclicals for his book -- populist. But she's. Those -- an extremely popular book. And he's obviously extremely profound -- Beauchamp. And it will take years -- if you unpack all of the profundity. It's up pretty not a great service temperature already entered service on all. Effectiveness years as Pope. John -- thank you very much and as part of the teaching ministry the first Pope. -- account on Twitter he was the first to come back to tweet. But it's important to note that Pope Benedict is 85 years old Pope John Paul the second was 84 when he died and we learned after his death that twice during his -- to -- he considered resigning. Because of his ill health and of course this sets up an hugely. Often in history political process with the conclave electing the next --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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