The Bishop of Plymouth has spoken of his surprise as Pope Benedict XVI today announced he would resign at the end of the month.
Bishop Christopher Budd said he was 'as surprised as anyone else'when he heard on the news that the pope would resign because of his age.
Pope Benedict became pope in 2005 on the death of John Paul II, and his resignation is the first of the modern era. Popes usually serve until they die in office.
Bishop Budd said: "A pope resigning isn't unheard of but I believe the last was in the Middle Ages.
"This says a lot about who Pope Benedict is. He has always had his feet on the ground, including about himself.
"I am sure seven years ago he would have told his electors that he would only be able to serve for a certain time.
"Clearly he has assessed himself, assessed his powers and decided that it is time he resigned."
Asked whether Pope Benedict has been 'a good pope' Bishop Budd said: "That is a very broad question, he has certainly been a good man.
"I think his legacy will be in what he has written.
"Pope John Paul II before him served for a long time and obviously wrote a lot, and while Pope Benedict has not written so much his writings are more clear, and easy to understand."
Bishop Budd met Pope Benedict twice, once in the UK and once at the Vatican.
The bishop, whose diocese covers Plymouth, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, travelled to Birmingham to meet the pope at a lunch in Birmingham in 2010.
And in the same year Bishop Budd travelled to the Vatican to meet the pope for an 'ad limina' visit - every five years each bishop has an audience with the pope.
Bishop Budd said: "He was very gracious, and it was a very useful and enjoyable 15-minute conversation.
"I very much enjoyed our conversation."
Bishop Budd has also received two formal letters from the pope - apostolic blessings.
They came on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as a bishop and his 50th anniversary as a priest.
Bishop Budd said: "They are two lovely documents which I will treasure and pass on when my time comes."
On the subject of a successor for Pope Benedict, Bishop Budd said the process could be quicker than that taken when a pope dies - with no nine day official mourning or funeral arrangements.
He said: "This is pure speculation, but it will be interesting to see if the conclave stays in Europe in their search, maybe returns to Italy or looks outside the continent for the next pope - possibly Africa, maybe South America or Asia."
Damien Hopton, of the Plymouth Catholic Student Society, said: "The news that Pope Benedict is resigning has come as a great shock to us all, however we feel that it is a brave and courageous decision.
"Being Pope is not about your career but a vocation, a calling to be a shepherd and to look after God's flock on earth, you can see this clearly in his decision. The Pope must feel that his health would slow down and hinder this task and therefore his vocation now calls on him to step down and take other duties."
He added: "Looking back, this Pope has left his mark on the Catholics in this country. Loads of people from Plymouth travelled up to see the Pope when he visited the UK. By the time he had left he had inspired and energised the Catholic community. He has also left us with a lot of teaching and started the Year of Faith which has had a clear impact on Plymouth with numerous talks and meeting being held to support this."
In a statement released today, Pope Benedict said: "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...
"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."
BISHOP BENEDICT XVI
Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger; on April 16, 1927 and is the 265th pope, Sovereign of the Vatican City State and leader of the Catholic Church.
Benedict XVI was elected on April 19, 2005 and took possession of his cathedral, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, on May 7, 2005.
A native of Bavaria, Pope Benedict XVI has both German and Vatican citizenship.
Ratzinger was ordained as a priest in 1951 and was appointed a full professor of theology in 1958.
After a long career as an academic, serving as a professor of theology at several German universities, he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising and cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1977.
In 1981, he settled in Rome when he became Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
From 2002 until his election as Pope, he was also Dean of the College of Cardinals.
Prior to becoming Pope, he was "a major figure on the Vatican stage for a quarter of a century" as "one of the most respected, influential and controversial members of the College of Cardinals".
Like his predecessor, Benedict XVI is theologically conservative in his teaching and writings defend traditional Catholic doctrine and values.
During his papacy, Benedict XVI has advocated a return to fundamental Christian values to counter the increased secularisation of many developed countries.
HERALD REPORTER'S ENCOUNTER WITH THE POPE
BEFORE my current incarnation as a journalist I previously worked for the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, as part of his press team, writes Herald reporter Patrick Daly.
It was during that stint that I got to assist with organising Pope Benedict's visit to the UK in 2010 – a job that culminated in meeting the 85-year-old Pontiff.
I met His Holiness at Westminster Cathedral before 9am in the morning on the third day of his visit. Despite the early hour, he was already visibly fatigued.
He had wanted to thank my colleagues and me for our efforts but, having already endured a busy morning itinerary, he could only muster a weary smile and a few repeated German-accented 'thank you's'.
Dressed all in white silk robes he walked unaided but in a shuffling manner. For such a famous figure, he had an unassuming presence and looked more like a grandfather than a leader.
It was probably why we warmed to him so much during the visit.
I was there when he went to greet hundreds of young people who were gathered outside the Cathedral. The emotion and connection between him and them was tangible and you could tell how delighted he was to be received like that by the younger generation.
Despite his age and tiredness, it was often his actions during the trip that had the greatest significance.