Many local Roman Catholic Church leaders surprised by pope's decision to resign
In this 2006 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd at the end of a papal Mass in Regensburg, southern Germany, some 75 miles northeast of Munich. When Benedict steps down on Feb. 28 his reputation as a brilliant theologian will remain intact. (Associated Press / February 11, 2013)
Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down took by surprise many local members of the Roman Catholic Church on Monday. He said that at age 85, he no longer has the necessary physical strength to lead the world’s more than 1 billion Roman Catholics.
“I’m very surprised. Yet, when I think about his age and frailty, he’s one of the smartest men, so he knows what’s best for the Church,” said Father John Lombardi of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Hancock, Md.
“I am sad because I and many of the faith have a very high regard for Pope Benedict XVI,” the Rev. J. Collin Poston, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Hagerstown said Monday. “At the same time, I also respect him for having the humility to recognize that his age and health prevent him from fulfilling the duties of his office.”
The pope’s decision “was a surprising move,” said Father George Pucciarelli, of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Hedgesville, W.Va. “I feel he is probably very sick and was thinking about the stability of the church” in making the decision to resign, he said.
“His Holiness is a profound and loving teacher of the faith, a courageous defender of human rights and dignity, and a man of prayer, humility and wisdom,” Archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori said in a statement. Baltimore is the oldest Catholic archdiocese in the United States.
Lori met with Benedict six weeks ago, he said in the statement.
Benedict will be remembered for his teaching, as one of the Catholic Church’s most eminent theologians, and for his pastoral charity, Poston said.
“I think his teaching on the authenticity of the Christian faith is important,” Lombardi said of Benedict’s pontificate. He also cited the pope’s attempts at reconciliation with the Eastern Orthodox churches and the ongoing Year of the Faith, an effort to reinvigorate the faith and evangelize to others.
Gregory XII resigned to help settle the Western Schism, a period when there were rival claimants to the throne.
Benedict was among the oldest popes to be elected at age 78 in 2005, succeeding Pope John Paul II.
With Pope Benedict stepping down effective Feb. 28, the College of Cardinals will meet to pray and deliberate over the selection of the new pope, Poston said.
“It is in God’s hands,” both Lombardi and Poston said when asked if there was anyone they would be pleased to see elected.
Perhaps the most prominent American Catholic is Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
“I know Cardinal Dolan is very popular, but the Catholic Church is a worldwide church,” Poston said.
“We’re open to whatever God wants for us,” Lombardi said, adding that a pope from the West would not be unwelcome.
“Whomever they select, he’s got to know the world situation and the church’s situation” if Benedict’s successor is to be an agent of change and peace, including peace between religions, he said.
“The responsibility will be on him to come up with some solutions for this world,” said Pucciarelli, a retired Navy chaplain.
There are more than 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, the Church’s Annuario Pontificio reported in 2012.
From St. Peter to Benedict XVI, there have been 265 popes.