The Bishop of Derry, Dr Seamus Hegarty, has submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict due to health reasons.
In an official statement, Bishop Hegarty said he had recently been diagnosed with a condition which was 'irreversible and progressive' and that a recent medical assessment had indicated that he is no longer capable of fulfiling his role as a diocesan bishop.
Dr Hegarty is 71 years old and has been Bishop of Derry since 1994. He was ordained as a priest in 1966, and was consecrated Bishop of Raphoe in 1982.
SDLP MP, Mark Durkan wished Bishop Hegarty well in his retirement as he copes with ongoing health challenges.
“In my dealings with him he has always impressed me as someone who is straight-talking and hard-working with a keen and active interest in the whole range of public affairs – but not for publicity’s sake," said Mr Durkan.
“Education has been his particular passion and he has been particularly effective in enhancing the schools’ estate and influencing the hierarchy’s attitudes on academic selection.”
It is understood that Pope Benedict received Bishop Hegarty's resignation later last week.