Pope Benedict XVI, who previously referred to gay people as a “defection of human nature”, is to resign at the end of this month (28 February), the Vatican has confirmed.

The 85-year-old anti-gay Catholic leader became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005 following the death of John Paul II.

Since assuming the top job in the Catholic Church, he has pursued a staunchly anti-gay doctrine.

In 2012, the Pope warned that introducing equal marriage around the world would risk the future of humanity itself.

At the end of the year, in his message for World Day of Peace 2013, he said same-sex marriage is unnatural and poses a threat to “justice and peace”.

Days before he was pictured giving a blessing to Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, who has promised to pass the country’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

In an end-of year address in 2008, the Pope said that the existence of gay people threatened humanity as much as the destruction of the rainforests does and that “blurring” genders through acceptance of transgender people would kill off the human race.

Resignations from the papacy are not unknown, but this is the first since 1415.

In a statement on Monday, Pope Benedict XVI said:

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

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, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.