Pope Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church worldwide, announced his resignation from the position effective February 28th, becoming the first pope in nearly 600 years to leave the position before death.
The pope, whose name before being voted to the papacy in 2005 following the death of John Paul II was Joseph Ratzinger, cited his declining health in a speech given during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, according to The Associated Press.
Benedict called it "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."
A pope has not resigned his position since 1415 when Pope Gregory XII stepped down to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among dual claims to the papacy. Before that, Pope Celestine V resigned in 1294 only five months after being elected.
Facebook was filled with comments Monday morning as the news broke.
"I think it's a little sad," wrote Diane Kardell Klein on the Babylon Village Patch Facebook page. "He should have waited until after Easter and the holy days!"
"It could be good news because this Pope is stuck in the dark ages about so many issues," wrote Peggy McHill Morris.
While some joked the pope might be taking the tradition of "giving something up for Lent to a whole new level," others saw a potential chance for change in a church hit with many scandals over the last decade.
"This could be a really great thing," noted Caroline Conway. "If we get a new pope who moves us towards progress, and creates perhaps a Vatican III that actually cares about social justice and Biblical teachings, and is not anti-women or anti-gay could potentially make me an active Catholic again."