Historic but humble
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodayHIGHLANDS COUNTY
Published: February 12, 2013
Published: February 12, 2013
With a few words in Latin, Pope Benedict XVI did Monday what no pope has done in half a millennium: announced his resignation, sending the already troubled Catholic Church scrambling to replace the leader of its 1 billion followers by Easter.
Local clergy voiced surprise but understanding Monday about Benedict's decision to resign as of Feb. 28.
Others said it was his right, but added that either way it did not affect them. Some others expressed regret or surprise.
The Rev. Nicholas McLoughlin, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Avon Park, has met the pope and found him to be a "very pleasant and gentle" person.
In deciding to resign, he showed "great grace," McLoughlin added.
When he became pope at age 78, Benedict was already the oldest pontiff elected in nearly 300 years. He's now 85, and in recent years he has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences.
While McLoughlin understands the pope's decision to resign in the wake of health challenges, his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, remained as pope until he died and may have shown that all people have a value and can contribute, regardless of any physical problems they may have, he added.
The Rev. J. Pete Sheehan, a retired priest who serves as an assistant priest at St. Catherine Catholic Church, said he's heard some criticism but believes that's "unkind."
"He's 85 years old and I can understand why he wants to retire," Sheehan said.
He said he's been at the Vatican and was at one time within 80 feet of the pope.
The Rev. Michael Cannon, a pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Lake Placid, said he's amazed by the decision.
"I thought it was an incredible, humble thing for him to do," he said.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a protege and former theology student of Benedict's who is considered a papal contender, called it a historic moment.
"Right now, 1.2 billion Catholics the world over are holding their breath," he told the Associated Press.
The resignation may mean that age will become less of a factor when electing a new pope, since candidates may no longer feel compelled to stay for life.
At the Lakeshore Mall, Lake Placid area resident Skip Mudge said he was shocked, though he understands the challenges the pope faced as he got older. "Sometimes I'm not able to do what I used to do."
Mudge said he would leave it up to the cardinals to decide whether a younger pope or one from another continent should be selected.
Several people at Lakeshore Mall said the resignation didn't affect them because they're not Catholic.
But one woman who did not give her name and said she belongs to the Episcopal Church, added that she's sorry that Benedict announced his resignation.
The Vatican stressed Monday that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision to become the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. Still, Benedict said his advanced age means he no longer has the necessary physical strength.
The pope travels to the altar in St. Peter's Basilica on a moving platform to spare him the 100-yard walk down the aisle. Occasionally he uses a cane. Late last year, people who were spending time with the pontiff emerged saying they found him weak and too tired to engage with what they were saying.
That Benedict is tired would be a perfectly normal diagnosis for an 85-year-old pope, even someone with no known serious health problems and a still-agile mind.
He has acknowledged having suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991 that temporarily affected his vision, but he later made a full recovery. In 2009, the pope fell and suffered minor injuries when he broke one of his wrists while vacationing in the Alps.
A doctor familiar with the pope's medical team told The Associated Press on Monday that the pontiff has no grave or life-threatening illnesses. But, the doctor said, the pope — like many men his age — has suffered some prostate problems. Beyond that, the pope is simply old and tired, the doctor said on condition of anonymity.
According to the pope's brother, Georg Ratzinger, the pontiff was told by his doctor not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips. In fact, the pontiff's only foreign trip this year was scheduled to be a July visit to Brazil for the church's World Youth Day.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.