The BBC is reporting that the 85-year-old religious leader announced his decision in Latin, during a meeting of Vatican cardinals.
Benedict is the 265th pope and the sixth from Germany. He is however the first German to lead the church since the 11th century. He is also the first pope to resign since 1415.
It was not immediately clear why Benedict had chosen to resign, although emerging details from his speech suggest that it is down to his advanced age:
“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,” the pope said.
The papal seat will remain vacant until a successor is chosen.
Given how quickly the news came after the pope got an official Twitter campaign, it’s unsurprising that the announcement gained massive traction on the social network, trending globally as details of the resignation were still emerging:
In fact, there were more than a few references to him joining Twitter:
As soon as the Pope joined twitter, i knew it was the beginning of the end. #pontifex