Local Catholics surprised by pope’s resignation, speculate on successor
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org February 11, 2013 6:34AM
FILE - This Nov. 26, 2011 file photo shows Pope Benedict XVI waving as he leaves Paul VI hall after attending a concert of the Asturias Principality Symphony Orchestra directed by Chilean conductor Maximiano Valdes, at the Vatican. On Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI will resign on Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/ Isabella Bonotto, file)
STATEMENT FROM ROCKFORD BISHOP
A statement released Monday afternoon from David J. Malloy, bishop of the Diocese of Rockford:
“Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, in great humility and concern for the church he shepherds, has announced his resignation. I feel a particular closeness to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI on several accounts.
First, as General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I had the privilege to meet him on several occasions during trips to Rome with the USCCB President and other representatives of the conference. The pope’s gestures of kindness and priestly virtue were always a most striking characteristic of his personality.
Second, I am particularly grateful, and feel a deep personal attachment, to our Holy Father for appointing me as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Rockford.
He will leave a lasting imprint for all of us in many ways but especially for his dedication and fidelity to the teachings of Christ and the Catholic Church and his care and concern for the poor as shown in his Encyclicals.
Guided by the Holy Father’s kindness and humility, we join together in praying that our Lord continue to bless the Holy Father with strength. We pray for our church, our world and all those who will choose his successor.”
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:11AM
Local Catholic leaders expressed surprise Monday at the abrupt resignation of the man who leads the 1.2 billion-member denomination.
Saying the infirmities of his advancing years have made it difficult to fulfill his duties, 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI announced he will step down Feb. 28. The decision – the first papal resignation is nearly 600 years, delivered in Latin during a Monday morning meeting of Vatican cardinals - sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before Easter.
Elected at age 78, Benedict was the oldest pope chosen to lead the church in nearly 300 years and was not expected to have a tenure similar to the 27 years of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. But the announcement coming two days before Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the holiest season on the Christian calendar, was unexpected.
“From what I hear, even his closest advisers were surprised,” said the Rev. Msgr. Martin Heinz, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Aurora. “At the very beginning of his pontificate, he made it very clear that if he reached a point where he could no longer perform his duties, he would resign. So he kept his word.”
Benedict reportedly has been advised by his physicians not to continue traveling by air.
“As he said, you can’t be a pope if you can’t get out to see his people,” Heinz said.
Details about the departure were sketchy for many of the area’s church leaders.
“Basically all we know is from the pope’s own words,” said Penny Weigert, communications director for the Diocese of Rockford. “It was a surprise to most everyone that we know.”
The pontiff emphasized that carrying out the duties of the papacy requires “both strength of mind and body.”
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he told the cardinals. “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.
“However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.
The Rev. Don McLaughlin, pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Naperville, doesn’t see cause for alarm in the resignation.
“It’s certainly historical; however, I look at it as the holy father (taking) a great deal of courage to announce a retirement,” McLaughlin said. “As pastors retire, they no longer have the administrative responsibilities but they remain spiritual leaders. … I think he realized that his advanced age and physical and mental capabilities, as we all age, are diminished. I think it took great courage to make that decision, which he obviously did prayerfully, and discerned that this was the best thing for the church.
“Why he chose to do it now, and not a month ago, or after Easter, I don’t know.”
Benedict called his choice “a decision of great importance for the life of the church.”
Those considered likely contenders to succeed Benedict include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican’s office for bishops.
Some anticipate that his successor - to be chosen by the 118 voting members of the conclave from among their own ranks - will come from a home base other than Europe.
“I believe the non-Europeans in the college of cardinals are so many,” said Rev. Paul Hottinger, pastor at St. Mary Margaret Church in Naperville.
That doesn’t necessarily suggest the new pope will interpret church doctrine differently from the generally conservative Benedict.
“I kind of doubt it, because most of the cardinals are fairly traditional thinkers,” Hottinger said. “But you can always be surprised by the holy spirit, so you never know.”
Heinz sees a broad field of candidates as well.
“There’s 118 cardinals, all of whom have the possibility of being chosen,” Heinz said. “I wouldn’t be so surprised if you see someone from maybe Latin America. The Hispanic world is just growing by leaps and bounds.”
The Catholic church in Africa and Oceania also is on the rise, as the volume of congregants in Europe is dwindling, Heinz said. But he emphasized that the cardinals will strive to make a choice that reflects the will of God.
“The holy spirit gets to decide these things, not a priest in Aurora, Illinois,” he said.
Discussing the announcement on his Monday morning radio show in Rockford, Bishop David J. Malloy said he eagerly anticipates the process.
“It’s fascinating - the human element, the element of the holy spirit, the pageantry that is all part of this,” Malloy said, noting that the speculation about which part of the globe is home to the next pope adds to the excitement. “I personally am planning on doing a lot of praying and then sitting back to see what happens.”
The church’s relationship to social issues that challenge its leaders – gay marriage, ordination of women, the abuse of children – are stringently spelled out in church doctrine, Heinz noted, leaving little room for mortal interpretation, even by the pope.
“It doesn’t change because the culture feels this or believes that,” said Heinz, who was elevated to the monsignor rank five years ago by Pope Benedict. “Sometimes the truth and love can be a challenge to people, and culture. The church needs to be in the public square and to express the love of God.”
The word may not be subject to change, but the language of its delivery may be, he added.
“Now how we teach, how we present the faith, how we evangelize is always open to new ways of expression,” Heinz said. “I think if Christ walked the earth, he’d be using all the social media.”
All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. According to 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.
The Rockford Diocese’s leader will join those with their eyes trained on the chimney.
“We’re all going to be outside like we always have been, unless they’ve changed something,” Malloy said, “waiting to see the white smoke.”