Surprise is what many Spokane Catholic leaders first felt when they heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI would be retiring at the end of this month; but accord and appreciation is what quickly followed after the news sank in.
“My gosh. I had no idea it was coming,” said the Rev. Kevin Codd, pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Student Center in Pullman. “My first reaction is that it is a very good pastoral move. It’s a very caring thing for him to do to step down because of age. It’s humble thing to do, especially because there’s no precedent for it.”
The last pontiff to resign was in 1415, when Gregory XII stepped down to bring about the end of the Western Schism, explained Jesuit priest Rev. Thomas Reese, of Washington, D.C.
Anastasia Wendlinder, assistant professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University, said traditionally the papacy is expected to be a lifelong position.
“There’s a sense that as the leader of the church you stay. There’s not an ex-pope,” she said.
However, she agreed with Codd that the pope’s decision shows his pastoral heart.
In Pope Benedict’s resignation statement he wrote, “…In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
“I think he’s making a discernment based on how the world operates today and what’s best for the church and for the world,” Wendlinder said.
When Benedict was elected as the 265th pope in 2005, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was 78 years old. Because of that, Wendlinder noted, no one expected him to have a 20-year papacy.
“Having a pope for a super long time might be moving in new direction,” she said.
Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II served as pontiff for more than two and a half decades.
Rev. Frank Case, vice president for mission at Gonzaga, said Benedict’s decision to resign is an example to future leaders.
“It shows a great detachment on his part to not hold onto everything to bitter end,” Case said. “The sentiment among all of us is that this is nice. He's been wonderful pope and the time comes for the good of the church … I think he chose well.”
Sister Mary Eucharista, program director for Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, said Benedict does does everything with much "deliberation and forethought" and should be respected for his decision.
"I'm glad we didn't have to go through another death and a funeral to have another pope. He's so beloved and he's still going to be alive. He's not super ill or anything, he's just super weak," she explained. "This is kind of his wisdom shining forth that just has marked his time as pope. It's only been eight short years, but we know who the man is and it just seems to be very commonsense follow-up to his reign."
Bishop Blase Cupich, of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, said in a statement that Benedict has been an inspiration to him for decades and was initially saddened by Monday’s headlines. However, he said, the timing is significant.
“His announcement comes just days before we enter into the great Season of Lent, a time in which we are urged to pursue a spirit of detachment as a means of making us free to follow God’s will. I am going to use today’s announcement to center my reflections throughout the Forty Days of Lent,” he said. “Pope Benedict XVI once again has inspired me and deepened my admiration and affection for him.”
After the pope resigns on Feb. 28 day-to-day operations will be handled by the Vatican Curia, or the central bureaucracy.
A conclave (College of Cardinals) will gather to elect a new pope, which is expected to happen by Easter.
Benedict, the Religion News Service reports, is expected to live out a quiet retirement in Vatican monastery.
Who do you think should be elected as the new pope? Take the poll.