The conclave of cardinals that will choose the next pope is expected to convene in mid-March. Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said "we should have a new pope for Easter," which this year falls on March 31. Benedict will be the first former pope in nearly six centuries to witness the election of his successor, but he does not plan to participate in the selection, Lombardi said.
Analysts immediately began predicting a turbulent debate between reformers and conservatives. At a time when the church is declining in its former stronghold of Europe but gaining strength in Africa, Asia and Latin America, pressure is growing on the College of Cardinals — the global princes of the church — to break with tradition by electing a non-European as pope
Benedict made his extraordinary announcement in Latin, to a private gathering of cardinals inside Vatican City. "I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," Benedict said. "For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter."
Benedict encouraged a revival of the Latin Mass and promoted a range of traditionalists into the Vatican hierarchy, hoping to win back conservative Catholics opposed to the church reforms spelled out by the Second Vatican Council of 1962. He attempted to recruit new members, including Anglicans disenchanted with liberal views on female as well as openly gay clergy in their own denomination. His unprecedented move to allow Anglicans to become Catholic but remain in their own communities drew some 1,600 lay people and 30 priests in North America alone. Benedict has designated 2013 the "year of faith," or evangelization, encouraging Catholics who have spent a half-century focusing on their own disputes to return to being missionaries.