The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, also known for his anti-gay views and unlikely to be in the running for the top job has called on Catholics to pray for Pope Benedict XVI.

Earlier on Monday, Pope Benedict announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the month due to ill health. 

In responce, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said:

“On reflection, I am sure that many will recognise it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action.

The Holy Father recognises the challenges facing the church and that “strength of mind and body are necessary” for his tasks of governing the church and proclaiming the Gospel.

I salute his courage and his decision.

I ask people of faith to keep Pope Benedict in their prayers. We Catholics will do so, with great affection and the highest esteem for his ministry as our holy father remembering with joy his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010. Pray, too, for the church and all the steps that must take place in the next weeks. We entrust ourselves to the loving providence of God and the guidance of the holy spirit.”

Recently Archbishop Nichols sanctioned a booklet that told Catholic teachers that they could be sacked for having a same-sex marriage or civil partnership.

In January, it was claimed that Archbishop Nichols had called for a halt to special gay-friendly Catholic masses in Soho, central London. - although organisers disputed the reports.

However, in his Christmas message of last year, Archbishop Nichols decried equal marriage plans for England and Wales as an Orwellian shambles.