The decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign on the 28th of February has shocked the Catholic Church. He is the first pontiff to resign from the position in almost 600 years.

Pope Benedict XVI, named  Joseph Ratzinger before his ascension to the papacy, became Pope in 2005. He is reportedly only the second Pope to resign in the history of the Catholic Church.

The reasons given were health and age. The Pope said that his “advanced age” meant he was no longer able to carry out his tasks adequately. He is currently 85.

Whilst the decision has been in the woodwork for some times, reports suggest, it has nevertheless left the Vatican in an awkward position.

What will be done with the former Pope and when a new one will be appointed is, at present, unclear. So too is who will lead the Catholic Church in the interim.

Whilst the resignation has been met with surprise, it has also been met with support. The previous Pope, Pope John Paul II, held on to the position even as he was dying of Parkinson’s disease. Some argue that his doing so was to the detriment of the Church, as he no longer had the strength to perform his duties.

Ratzinger’s seven-year stint in power has not been without controversy. In 1985 as a Cardinal he delayed efforts to defrock a priest convicted of molesting children.

He has also been criticized for his crackdown on liberal nuns in the United States who challenged the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood.