New Pope: Benedict's Resignation Takes World By Surprise, Several Front-Runners Emerge

The news that Pope Benedict XVI will be officially stepping down on February 28 came as a surprise to even many in his inner circle. It's set off speculation about possible successors and the state of Benedict's health.

Many were shocked by the announcement. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the announcement "shocked and surprised everyone.... I ask people to keep faith with Pope Benedict in their prayers. 

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Pope's decision was his own and not due to any outside pressure. Lombardi ruled out "depression" or uncertainty as the cause of the Pope's resignation.

Several front-runners to replace the Pope are already being discussed, including Ghanaian-born Peter Turkson and Oscar Rodriguez Mariadaga, a Honduran.