Local Catholic leaders support pope's decision
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local leaders of the Catholic Church voiced their support for Pope Benedict XVI on Monday, following his shocking resignation.
Benedict, 85, announced Monday morning at the Vatican that he plans to resign Feb. 28, citing old age and a lack of strength to fulfill his duties.
This makes Benedict the first pope to resign in about 600 years. Of more than 260 men to serve as the leader of the Catholic Church, he is one of only a handful to resign before the end of his life.
"By announcing his resignation today, Pope Benedict XVI is showing the great love and devotion he has for the Church, specifically his devotion to Christ our savior," said Bishop Michael Bransfield, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. "The Holy Father is being realistic about his physical limitations at this time in his life. I admire him for his courage and humility."
Monsignor Edward Sadie of Charleston's Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral admitted the news came as a shock but called the move "bold" and "courageous."
"I was very much surprised that he did this, but he's recognizing his health problems and wanted to give our people a healthier leader," Sadie said. "The Pope is our visible focus, while our invisible leader of course is always Jesus Christ. The Pope is a visible source of unity and communion together, and he felt a younger person in better health would be a better representation of that."
Sadie said he views the news as an opportunity to educate more people about Catholicism and the roles of the Pope.
"I think as we go forward now, the eyes of the world will be on the Catholic Church as it deliberates who will lead us after Benedict, and of course, the church is universal so we will be looking for leaders all over the world," he said. "Benedict is going to spend the rest of his life praying and suffering for the good of the church, and I'm calling on all our Catholic people, and even those outside the church, to pray to the Holy Spirit that God will give the cardinals the guidance they need to pick a successor."
Jane Donovan, a religious studies professor at West Virginia University, said she received several calls Monday from people feeling "puzzled and confused" about the unprecedented resignation.
"The normal expectation is that the pope will die in office, so for him to resign for health reasons is a bit surprising," said Donovan, who specializes in American religious history.
Donovan said the timing is unusual as well.
Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40-day Catholic fast leading to Easter.
"It's most surprising that he's going to leave in the middle of Lent, which is one of the two major religious seasons of the year," Donovan said. "In his statement, he did say he expected there would be a new pope by Easter, so perhaps he's timed it that way to welcome someone new during a significant season in the life of believing Christians."
The office of the pope is something that Donovan lectures about often, and the papacy is significant outside of the church, she said.
"The papacy is a significant office in Christianity with a great deal of history and a great deal of responsibility. A number of popes over the years have been very significant in the development of theology and Catholic practices and beliefs," she said. "What happens in the Catholic Church affects everyone. This is very surprising news."
Though the Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision, the pope has cut back his travel significantly and goes to and from the altar in St. Peter's Basilica on a moving platform instead of walking down the long aisle.Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.