Rome, February 11 - The stunning resignation of Pope Benedict XVI which shocked the world on Monday seemed out of character for a cleric whose career has been marked by a cautious, conservative approach. Benedict, who is 85, announced that because of his failing health he would step aside on February 28 so that a council of cardinals could meet in mid-March to choose his successor. Although his health has been a concern for some time, the abruptness of the announcement by Benedict, the former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, stunned the world. Since he was elected on April 19, 2005, Benedict has steered a steady, strongly conservative course for the Catholic Church despite loud protests from reformers. Yet he was also willing to take advantage of new technologies, becoming the first pope to have his own Twitter account, which was followed by almost three million soon after it was launched late last year. The German-born cleric, who rose through the Vatican ranks as a hard-core conservative, stood in a dramatic contrast to his charismatic predecessor Pope John Paul II. Benedict, the son of a Bavarian police officer, belied his mild demeanour by reaffirming resistance to non-believers and a secular society. He drew enormous criticism over a 2001 directive when, as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger said that sex-abuse investigations should be kept in-house. The Catholic Church is still reeling from the fallout of the clerical abuse scandals that came to light under Benedict's papacy after years of being hidden by Church officials. Although the Pope eventually apologized for the abuse and met with victims, the Church remained branded for having shielded priests accused of molesting youngsters and hiding bad behaviour which in turn, prevented criminal prosecutions. More recently, Benedict has repeatedly pledged to root out abuse although victims' groups have said they were waiting to see "more concrete" actions on the abuse, which occurred in the United States, Australia, and across Europe including Germany and Italy. Benedict's efforts to protect the Church from scandal appeared to be consistent with his well-known belief that Catholicism is the "true" faith while other religions are deficient and that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak. He also created controversy with the Islamic world when in 2006 he quoted an ancient emperor's attack on Islam as 'evil and inhuman,' igniting protests among Muslims worldwide. Benedict also stuck to conservative lines on homosexuality, the ordination of female priests and stem-cell research, disappointing Catholic liberals.