As the Pope announces he will stand down at the end of February, the Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly tells Channel 4 News Benedict XVI will go down as "one of the very great Popes".

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In a surprise announcement, the Vatican said the 85-year-old pontiff would leave on 28 February after nearly eight years in office.

A statement said the Pope, who has appeared increasingly frail, was unable to continue in office due to his age and diminishing strength and the papacy will remain vacant until a successor is elected.

He is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years and the decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

The Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly told Channel 4 News he did not suspect the resignation was coming: "My immediate reaction was surprise but then very quickly one of great admiration and gratitude and this is typical of the man I've known for quite a few years.

"He combined a great wisdom which was also then ready to read quite clearly what is needed at a particular time.

"I always find him a great listener and someone who was able to give you a wider perspective and make you aware of things that just hadn't crossed your mind and I suppose this is another example of that."

Pope took 'vigorous' line on child abuse

The Pope, who visited Scotland and England in September 2010, announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals this morning.

"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," he told the cardinals.

The night he was elected I rejoiced greatly in the choice. I think when all the dust settles we will be massively grateful. Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly

The Archbishop of Liverpool rejected suggestions that the Pope did not deal effectively with scandals surrounding the church: "On the issue of child abuse he was absolutely vigorous on that as he had been before he became Pope and on that he took the strongest possible action and guided us into a very different future."

Speaking about the controversy involving the Pope's butler he said: "An organisation the size of the Vatican it is very difficult to deal with everything but I think above all, what we're grateful for is he offered us a marvellous wisdom in the ways of the Lord which shone through for example when he came to our country."

The archbishop said Benedict XVI would be remembered as one of the great Popes: "The night he was elected I rejoiced greatly in the choice. I think when all the dust settles we will be massively grateful.

"If people revisit the sort of wisdom he shared when he visited our country, my goodness there was plenty there for all of us to take to heart and be grateful for - I think he will go down as great."

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