By Catholic Free Press staff
The historic decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign is seen by many as heroic, practical, and not unexpected.
“This was an act of great humility,” Bishop McManus said Monday, the day the world learned that for the first time in 600 years a pope would step down. Like others, the bishop said he was stunned by the news, but then, not surprised.
Pope Benedict told an assembly of cardinals two days before Ash Wednesday that “strength of mind and body … has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
“What an example of humility for all of us. To realize that we have to put ourselves at the disposal of God but there might be a time when one says ‘I cannot do this,’” Bishop McManus said.
Perhaps a half dozen popes have resigned in the history of the Church, but Pope Benedict is the first to do so freely for health reasons, said Jesuit Father Thomas W. Worcester, professor of history at the College of the Holy Cross.
Father Worcester, who teaches a course about the history of the papacy beginning in the 1500s, said the pope deserves credit for his decision.
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who left in 1415 during the Great Western Schism, when three men claimed to be pope.
“I tell students that if you think the Church has problems now …,” Father Worcester said with a laugh.
Pope Celestine V stepped down in the 1200s after only five months, Assumption College President Francesco Cesareo noted. He came into the papacy not wanting to be pope and could not bear the enormous responsibility, he said.
Today “the historical circumstance is very, very different,” President Cesareo said.
Pope Benedict “looked at the Church and the challenges and what the Church needs and decided, the Church needs some other person to lead,” President Cesareo said.
“I feel that he is setting a good precedent for the Church,” said Sister Hilda Ponte, provincial of the Venerini Sisters in the United States Province and president of the corporation of Venerini Academy in Worcester.
“Leadership takes a lot out of us. It takes energy and strength. … Removing ourselves to let others do the job – I think that’s a healthy way of involving ourselves in leadership,” said Sister Hilda who spent six years in Rome on the Venerini Sisters’ General Council.
Rumors that Pope Benedict was going to resign have been around for a year, said John J. Monahan, so it was not really a surprise.
But no one really expects a pope to resign, so when the announcement came it was a jolt, he said.
Mr. Monahan, of Worcester, is Lieutenant for the USA Northeastern Lieutenancy of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. He said the pope deserves “all the credit in the world” for his work in the Church at his age, 85.
“Imagine the pressure on him every day,” he said.
Ronald Thompson of Shrewsbury, a member of the Knights of Malta, said that
Pope Benedict’s decision to resign “required a tremendous amount of strength. I respect him a lot.”
“He’s a remarkable man who tried to live the Gospel in his own personal life,” he said. The pope did what a pope is supposed to do, he led us by setting an example in his own spiritual life, he said.
Those who would talk about who might be elected the next pope agreed that he will not be an American.
“We haven’t dealt with a pope leaving the Church while the previous pope is still in the background. We see it on diocesan level with bishops. But on the universal level, how do you navigate as pope leading the Church while your predecessor is still alive? The fact that he is still present will have an impact on the way the next pope decides to lead,” President Cesareo said.
Mr. Thompson speculated that perhaps the new pope will be elected from a Third World country or from Latin America. It is where the Church is growing most rapidly, he said.
President Cesareo said he does not anticipate a major shift in thinking and expects the next pope to maintain the continuity of the previous popes.
After all, he said, the cardinals “who are eligible to vote were all appointed by John Paul II or Benedict.”
“I hope they go where the Holy Spirit leads them,” Bishop McManus said.