Nightly News   |  February 10, 2013

From the Archives: Pope’s surprising decision to step down

Mentioning no specific ailment other than ‘advanced age,’ Pope Benedict’s parting came as a shocking announcement for many – except for the Pope’s brother, who said he knew Benedict had been thinking about stepping down for months. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> of nowhere. and it stunned the over 1 billion catholics around the world when the pope announced early this morning, our time, he is stepping down, abdicating. this hasn't happened in seven centuries. pope benedict has served during a troubling time for the catholic church . he says he doesn't have the strength to carry on. his departure now opens up the potential for a huge period of change for a church that's been faced with changing times around the world. we have two reports to start with tonight, beginning with our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel . richard, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. even the pope's closest aides said they were stunned. the pope was expected to address a routine meeting of cardinals when he made this announcement. the pope surprised everyone, announcing in latin he was stepping down. i have to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me said the 85-year-old possibilityipossibilitntive. he mentioned no specific ailment but said his age forced the decision and his strength in the last few months has deteriorated. in st. peter's square, tourists and pilgrims were stunned.

>> i don't know what to say more than this. just really surprised.

>> reporter: pope benedict had been looking frail recently, using a moveable platform during services, so he wouldn't have to walk. relying on a cane. the pope wants more rest, said his 89-year-old brother in germany. he said his brother has been thinking about stepping down for months. and had been advised by his doctors not to take anymore long, international flights, such as a planned trip to brazil in july. the pope's decision is unprecedented in modern times . the last similar case was pope sell celestine 5 who had praise for pope benedict today.

>> he has given church the last great service he will give the church. he's stepping off the stage when he feels he can't exercise the office of peter.

>> reporter: benedict seemed to many a reluctant pope, as cardinal ratzinger under john paul ii , he was known as a conservative guardian of church doctrine, opposing women priests , abortion and homosexuality. as pope, he inherited the church's biggest scandal in decades. revelations that priests had sexually abused children. he met with victims and apologized.

>> for all, i express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these despicable crimes.

>> reporter: he met the arduous demands of the modern papacy. today he said that will end in just 17 days . the pope will eventually move into a monastery for cloistered nuns in the vatican. officials say he will dedicate his time to prayer and reflecti reflection.

>> richard engel , thanks.