The Vatican has acknowledged that Pope Benedict XVI had a surgery to replace the batteries of a pacemaker. This acknowledgement adds credence to the fact the Pope's shocking decision to retire from the Holy See was the result of his failing health.

In a statement carried by the Vatican Radio, the 85-year-old Pope confirmed he would step down on 28 February and become the first in 600 years to voluntarily surrender his position. The Vatican's conclave, to elect the new Pope, is expected in March.

The Vatican's spokesperson Federico Lombardi has insisted the Pope's decision to resign had nothing to do with his health problems. He claimed the replacement of the batteries was a "routine" operation and was "not a relevant procedure".

Speculation the Pope had a pacemaker has been doing the rounds for some time now but this is the first time the Vatican has admitted the device.

Meanwhile, Lombardi also said the Pope - born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger - will not have any role in the matter of election of a new leader.

The spokesperson added: "The Pope has said in his declaration that he will use his time for prayer and reflection, and will not have any responsibility for guidance of the church or any administrative or government responsibility. This is absolutely clear and this is the sense of the resignation."