Pope's decision to retire saddens Catholics here
Pope's decision to retire saddens Catholics here STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Catholics here expressed shock and sadness at the news that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning as leader of the Catholic Church but said they respect his decision, given his declining health.
In a surprising announcement before a gathering of cardinals in Rome Monday, the 85-year-old pontiff announced he would step down as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics at the end of the month.
It's been nearly 600 years since a sitting pope -- Pope Gregory XII in 1415 -- abdicated his position.
In his statement to the cardinals, Benedict said he had come to the certainty "that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise" of his duties as pope.
"The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak," said the Rev. Leo Goodman, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church of Lancaster.
"I was surprised, but I knew the holy father had been struggling with his health," said Goodman, who learned of the pope's decision early Monday morning via an news update on his iPhone.
"I was a little saddened that he didn't hold on longer."
Bonnie West, a Catholic from Lancaster city, said she felt a mixture of "surprise and shock" at learning the news.
"At first, it was almost a sense of being abandoned by my papa, in a way," said West, interviewed as she left Mass Monday at St. Mary's. "Yet immediately following that was such a sense of trust that God knew what he was doing.
"(The pope) is a tremendous man of prayer, and he would never had made this decision without a great deal of prayer. So I'm sure that God is in charge and knows what's up."
Like other local Catholics, West had praise for Benedict, who took over as pontiff in 2005 following the death of John Paul II, one of the most popular popes of modern times.
"I think his style is very different from John Paul II's -- not as touchy-feely, so to speak," West said. "But when you look into those eyes, there's a deep fatherly care for everyone under him."
Joseph McCafferty, a Catholic from Manheim Township, said Benedict has been "a good leader for the church in a difficult time."
"There are big shoes to fill for whoever fills the spot behind him," said McCafferty as he left St. Mary's.
Monsignor Richard Youtz, pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Manheim Township, said Benedict's announcement took him by surprise, but he understands why he is leaving.
"With the job description and all that this man has to do at 85, he deserves to rest," Youtz said.
Other clergy and church members praised Benedict for his service.
The Rev. Allen Wolfe said he has a great respect for the pope's intellect and his writings, especially his encyclicals, or papal letters, on charity and love.
Wolfe, pastor of San Juan Bautista Catholic Church of Lancaster, also praised Benedict for his handling of the clergy abuse scandal that engulfed the church during his tenure.
"He met personally with the victims of the sexual abuse scandal," Wolfe said. "It was a sign of his compassion, and it was important that those who have been harmed by the abuse no longer feel ostracized."
Wolfe said some of his parishioners are hopeful the next pope will come from a Spanish-speaking country because of the growing number of Hispanics in the church.
Others are calling for an African pontiff because of the church's expanded reach into that continent.
About 70 percent of the world's Catholics hail from the developing world, where the population is growing at a much faster rate than in Europe and the U.S. The faith is expanding most rapidly in Africa, with the continent providing a growing share of priests worldwide.
Wolfe would not speculate on where the next pope might come from, but he said a cardinal who is bilingual would likely have a better chance of being named than one who is not.
The new pope will be chosen through a conclave, a gathering of cardinals who are sequestered in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican until they agree on a successor. All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote.
As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected. There currently are 118 cardinals under age 80 and eligible to vote, 67 of whom were appointed by Benedict.
A spokesman for the Vatican said it's likely a new pope will be appointed by Easter, March 31.
nBenedict XVI cites failing health, is first pope to abdicate since 1415.