The head of the Jesuits, known as the "Black Pope" because of his black robes, is to step down voluntarily for the first time in the order's 500-year history.
Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, a Dutch prelate who has been Jesuit Superior General since 1983, resigned after tensions between the liberal-minded Jesuits and more conservative forces in the Roman Catholic Church. Since the election of Pope Benedict XVI last April a battle has been fought between the Jesuits and the conservative Opus Dei for control of the Vatican's media operations.
The Vatican said that Father Kolvenbach wanted to "hand the baton to a younger man", and that Pope Benedict XVI had given his blessing to the move. Father Kolvenbach will stand down in 2008, when he is 80. The Jesuits, the largest Catholic order, are said to have led opposition to the election of Pope Benedict.