TODAY   |  February 28, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI to step down at sunset

At exactly 8 p.m. today, Pope Benedict XVI will become the second pope in history to leave the position, ending an eight-year reign sometimes rocked by scandal. NBC’s Keir Simmons reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> it's a moving scene as pope benedict addressed the cardinals and shared a private moment for many of them. as you watch this, you have to realize it's probable one of the men he just spoke to over the last hour or so will be the next pope.

>> that's right. it's a bit of a surprise benedict addressed the cardinals at all. he made that point. among you there is a future pope. he vowed to give reference and support to that next pope. i'm actually standing with cardinal timothy dolan , one of the cardinals to greet the pope. we will speak to him live exclusively and hear about that meeting and what they had to say. and i want to give you a few details of what is to be expected live here in rome . the next time we see pope benedict the xvi will be 11:05 . and will take a helicopter to the pope's summer residence castel gandolfo and then make one final live appearance and the papal resignation will become official a few hours later when the doors close and swiss guards leave and this day comes to the end of an era for the catholic church . let's go to keir simmons at the square. good morning to you.

>> hey, savannah. the saints looking out of this historic square have not seen a day like this since the middle ages . the pope has been meeting with the cardinals , telling them, i'll be with you in prayer.

>> dawn across rome . since st. peter, this city has seen more than 260 pontiffs, only two popes passed in the last thousand years have left like this. the cardinals , princes of the church , gathered this morning for a warm farewell to pope benedict . some cardinals wanted to speak to him for as long as possible. pope benedict will resign just after sunset. his home for the coming months, this beautiful summer palace , quiet after a frantic few weeks.

>> at 8:00 exactly he will stop being pope. the swiss guards who stand guard outside the palatso will step down and they know longer have to guard the catholic church and he will go into retirement.

>> reporter: now, the task begins of choosing his successors.

>> i think there's some kind of yearning out there for something different, somebody new, somebody fresh, perhaps younger.

>> reporter: an election, the conclave, with rules created through 2,000 years of experience, secret ballots cast in a sistine chapel . in many ways this will be different. this time a retired pope will be watching from the sidelines.

>> we have to see how it plays out. it's completely unchartered waters.

>> reporter: the cardinals must choose a man to lead the faithful forward in these difficult times for the church. they're yet to set a date. it must begin soon. a new pope surely shall be in place by easter week. in a few hours the bells will ring out across rome as the pope is taken in a white helicopter for the 10 minute journey to castel gandolfo , his summer residence and expected to wave before going inside. at 8:00 p.m ., seven hours from now, pope benedict will be pope no longer.

>> keir simmons in st. peter's