Pope's Resignation Shocks North Country Catholics

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Pope Benedict XVI shocked Roman Catholics in the north country and around the world by saying that he would resign, becoming the first pope to do so in 600 years.

"I woke up this morning to that news and I was totally surprised...it was really a shock," said Barbara O'Brien, a member of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Watertown.

Pope Benedict, at age 85, is stepping down on February 28, saying he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties.

Benedict says that carrying out the duties of being pope requires "both strength of mind and body."

And he says he has concluded that his strengths "are no longer suited" to doing the job adequately.

"The pope is very important to us. He's the Vicar of Christ. He's our spiritual leader, if you will, so to have him resign because of health, or whatever, is rather startling," said Father Donald Robinson, pastor of St. Patrick's and St. Anthony's churches in Watertown.

The surprise announcement came Monday during a meeting of Vatican cardinals.

It sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for the world's 1 billion Catholics.

"We pray for not only his health, but guidance for the cardinals that will meet to elect a new pope," said Penny Clark, a member of St. Patrick's Church.

The Vatican says no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision.

In recent years, the pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences.

His 89 year old brother says doctors had recently advised the pope not to take any more trans-Atlantic trips.
   
Benedict had made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job.
   
When he was elected in 2005 at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years and had been planning to retire to his native Bavaria.

"I think he'll be remembered as a great spiritual leader and very pastoral and obviously a very great scholar...I think he brought a lot of stability to the Church after Pope John Paul II died," said Father Robinson.

During his tenure, Benedict charted a very conservative course for the church, trying to reawaken Christianity in Europe where it had fallen by the wayside and return the church to its traditional roots, which he felt had been betrayed by an incorrect interpretation of the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
   
His efforts though, were overshadowed by a worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal, communication gaffes that outraged Jews and Muslims alike and, more recently, a scandal over leaked documents by his own butler.

"The difficulties are there, there's no denying it.  While the sin is real, I think he is a real prophet of hope. If we remain faithful to our God, our God remains faithful to us," said Bishop Terry LaValley, who Benedict appointed to be the 14th Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg three years ago.

There's no obvious successor to Pope Benedict.
   
Benedict himself will hold great sway over the choice of the next pope.

He has already hand-picked most of the College of Cardinals, the princes of the church who will elect the new pope.

That's expected to happen next month.

Popes are allowed to resign but church law says the decision must be "freely made and properly manifested." Still, only a handful have done it.
   
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants.


 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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