UPDATE: 1.15pm

Catholic MP Paul Murphy paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI after he announced his resignation today.

The Labour MP for Torfaen, who was made a papal Knight, said the pontiff was a “formidable theologian” after he became the first pope to announce he would stand down in nearly 600 years.

Mr Murphy said: “I was surprised to hear of Pope Benedict’s resignation today.

“Pope Benedict XVI is a formidable theologian and leader and I am confident that he has come to this decision after much consideration.

Paul Murphy, the former Northern Ireland and Welsh Secretary, is a Knight of the Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory and the Great.

UPDATE: 11.00am

THE POPE, Benedict XVI, will resign it was announced today. A papal spokesman has announced he will stand down on February 28th.

A statement said the pope is "fully aware of the gravity of the gesture."

The Pope is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years and the decision means there must be a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals Monday morning.

He said that because of his advanced age and diminishing strength, he didn't feel he could carry on the job.