Catholic leaders around the city are reacting with surprise and well-wishes to the news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign as leader of the Catholic Church effective Thursday, February 28.
His holiness, elected to lead the Vatican in 2005, announced early on Monday, February 11 he no longer felt physically or mentally able to guide the church.
Benedict XVI is the first Pontiff to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415 — when the Catholic Church faced an internal rift. Traditionally, a pope is elected until his death, after which a new leader is elected by the College of Cardinals.
As Pope, Benedict XVI serves as the spiritual leader of roughly 1 billion Catholics worldwide, as well as the political leader of the Vatican — the epicenter for Catholicism and one of the world’s smallest nations.The Pontiff is also the second consecutive non-Italian pope. Pope John Paul II, who was Polish, became the first church leader who was not Italian elected in 455 years. The incumbent Pope was born as Joseph Ratzinger in the Bavarian region of Germany.
The Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, said he found out about the Pope’s decision around 6 a.m. on February 11. DiMarzio said while he was surprised by the news, he was knew Benedict had considered the move for some time.
“Two years ago he indicated that if he could not carry out the responsibilities he would resign,” DiMarzio said. “He prepared us with the eventuality that he might resign.”
Benedict XVI, who will turn 86 this April, was tired by from a combination of his age and his schedule, DiMarzio said.
“I’m sure they’ll elect another Pope,” he added. “Hopefully one with emotional, physical and spiritual qualities necessary to lead the church.”
Parish leaders throughout Queens gave their comments on His Holiness’ decision to resign after succeeding Pope John Paul II almost 8 years ago.
Monsignor Michael J. Hardiman of St. Sebastian’s Roman Catholic Church in Woodside said the Pope’s move would breathe new life into the church and allow for new leadership to spark a revival in the church.
“Pope Benedict [is] going out and saying, ‘We’re a new church again,’ and it’s an opportunity for the church to have new leadership,” Hardiman said. “Personally I think he was probably one of the persons who was closest to Pope John II, and he saw the last months of his life and how debilitated he became; he wasn’t in charge any longer.”
Father Thomas Brosnan, pastor of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Bayside, said the news was not earth-shattering, but would set a new policy that Popes may be able to step down, should they feel unable to lead the church.
“It had to happen sooner than later with the lifespan of people now,” Brosnan said. “If the Pope gets debilitated, that always has to be faced. It sets a precedent in the future that it’s okay to have a retired Pope.”
Bill Donohue, president of the New York-based American Catholic League, released seven points that the Pope’s legacy would be strongly preserved. During the Pope’s tenure, Donohue said, he was tolerant and tried to strengthen bonds with the rest of the world and create a better understanding.
“The pope reached out to dissidents on the right and the left, seeking to bring them to communion,” Donohue said. “Not all his efforts succeeded, but his attempts were noble.”
President Barack Obama issued a statement a few hours after the Vatican confirmed the news:
“On behalf of Americans everywhere,” he said, “Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years. The Church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s successor.”
Additional reporting by Alexa Altman, Melissa Chan and Maggie Hayes