Pope Benedict's resignation shocks
Most Reverend Michael Mulhall, Bishop of Pembroke
Area Catholics were surprised by Pope Benedict’s bombshell announcement Monday that he is resigning after nearly eight years as the head of the church.
Reading a prepared statement to cardinals at the Vatican, the 85-year-old pontiff said that he was well aware of the seriousness of a papal abdication, the first since Gregory XII reluctantly stepped down in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the Pope said speaking in Latin.
The news shocked the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics who could have a new Pope elected and installed by Easter. In a brief statement late Monday, Most Reverend Michael Mulhall, Bishop of Pembroke reflected on Pope Benedict’s historic-making decision.
“The surprising news this morning of the Pope’s resignation on Feb. 28 is an historic and important event in the life of the church throughout the world and here in the Diocese of Pembroke,” stated Mulhall. “With great thanksgiving to God for the ministry of Benedict XVI over the past eight years, I invite all people of good will to join the church in a period of prayer and petition in the coming weeks, as his successor is chosen to serve as the Holy Father.”
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the first German pope in 1,000 years and the second non-Italian in a row when he succeeded the late John Paul II on April 19, 2005. Although the Pope cited health concerns, many area Catholics did not see this resignation coming.
“This is the first time a pope has stepped down in 600 years,” said Len McGean, grand knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 11932, adding the pontiff must have weighed the options sensing his health was in decline. “He figured it’s better to step aside.”
Popes have traditionally been chosen at the conclave, a secret meeting of the College of Cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel. With a sudden death of the pontiff not initiating the proceedings, McGean said there will be more time to plan out this succession.
“This gives them a chance to look ahead. It wasn’t sprung on them,” he said. “At least now, they have some foresight and time to plan things.”
The news stunned most who had come to fondly know their church leader. Rose Smith, president of the Holy Name Catholic Women’s League, said it was something completely out of the blue.
“I applaud the fact that, if he can’t continue with his duties, then he is stepping down to allow someone else to take his place,” said Smith.
Jason Dedo, director of faith, formation and leadership development with the Pembroke Diocese, said it was obvious that the Pope took time praying and reflecting on this historic decision.
“This decision certainly shows strength and humbleness in his character. Most Catholics will understand his reasons for resigning - an advanced age and increasing health challenges,” said Dedo. “As people continue to live longer, we cannot expect them to carry on the duties and responsibilities of those who my have held an office before but at a much younger age.”
As one of Pope John Paul’s senior advisors, Benedict witnessed his predecessor’s failing health in the latter years of his papacy. Dedo believes this influenced the Pope’s decision to bow out now.
On the evening of Feb. 28, Benedict XVI will vacate the Holy See of St. Peter and renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome with full freedom. Vatican spokesmen said they anticipate the Pope will go into isolation for at least a while after his resignation. During his tenure, Benedict promoted world peace, spoke out against poverty and supported youth initiatives. However, his legacy will extend beyond that, added Dedo.
“Pope Benedict will be remembered for his repeated warnings against the rise of moral relativism and secularism in the world but especially in Europe, a continent with strong Christian traditions,” he explained. “Pope Benedict continuously called on Catholics to live and practice the traditions of their faith in an increasingly secular world.”
In March, some 118 cardinals will begin the election process with a mass before convening the conclave in the Sistine Chapel. Deliberations can last for days, however, Benedict was chosen in only two days. When voting begins, each cardinal walking to the front of the chapel to cast his ballot. Balloting continues, with two ballots a day, until one candidate emerges with two-thirds of the vote. Cardinals Peter Turkson, from Ghana, Nigeria’s Francis Arinze, and Odilo Scherer, archbishop of Sao Paolo, are widely seen as front-runners.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist