Although rare, this isn't the first time the leader of the Catholic Church has stepped down. YNN's Meg Rossman has more on a previous papal resignation and how it could affect the church's election process.
TOWN OF LEWISTON, N.Y. — "It's very rare for a pope to just, to just resign or retire,” Niagara University campus minister Monica Saltarelli said Monday afternoon.
But Pope Benedict XVI broke the mold Monday morning, becoming the first pope to resign in centuries.
"Generally we're talking about 600 years or so, so that'd be about 1415," Father Joseph Hubbert explained.
But under different circumstances. Pope Gregory XII resigned to end a civil war within the church. In this case, the pontiff cited his health as the reason for retirement after an eight year tenure, giving the church's College of Cardinals time to prepare for conclave in Rome – time not usually given under past circumstances.
"In this situation, realizing that he will step down the 28th of February, some previous preparations will be made so that the chair will not be empty for the amount of time that might normally happen," Hubbert said.
It took the College of Cardinals two weeks to gather and just 24 hours to elect the then 78-year-old Benedict, following Pope John Paul II's death. His predecessor died in office after a 28-year reign, plagued by years of health problems. Followers believe Benedict is taking a proactive approach in his decision to resign.
"That's a lot of responsibility, maybe he's trying to be responsible and realize that he can't make the best decisions at this point in his life,” Saltarelli said.
Despite the rarity of the situation, Father Hubbert believes the pontiff's successor will be a quick decision, saying the Catholic Church will likely have a new leader by the end of March.
"Will they be able to do this perhaps by Easter? There's no reason they shouldn't be able to so we'll have to wait and see."