As local Catholic leaders learned early Monday of Pope Benedict XVI’s planned abdication, they reflected on what the decision means for the pontiff and the church.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was among those who said they were moved by Benedict’s courage and foresight in realizing that his failing health meant that the church needed a new leader soon.
“He has served the Church with a sense of humility, a firm commitment to the teachings of the Church and a pastoral presence to all he encountered,” Naumann said in a written statement. “He is a true and holy shepherd of his flock.”
Bishop Robert W. Finn, who oversees the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was surprised and saddened when he heard Pope Benedict would retired.
“He has been a wonderful Holy Father: Brilliant, joyful and holy. His whole ministry as a professor, priest, bishop, cardinal and pope has had historic and lasting implications,” Finn said in a statement.
In a homily delivered Monday at the noon Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, retired Monsignor Robert S. Gregory said the cardinals who will select the next pope should not have political aspirations or be guided by personal motives.
“We pray that the cardinals will open their hearts to whatever God wants and to the kind of pope the Holy Spirit has chosen to lead his church in the future,” Gregory told about 50 parishioners who attended the service. “We are not orphans and we are well taken care of and we have nothing whatsoever to fear, yet we are glad and grateful to Pope Benedict for his generous service.”
Freddie Byrd, who attended the service, thinks the next pope should be younger and “just as humble as Pope Benedict and will teach us and lead us by the Holy Spirit.”
Benedict’s decision to abdicate took courage and humility, said Jude Huntz, chancellor for Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“We as human beings just tend to think we can do this and want to hold on for as long as we can,” Huntz said. “You see that in a lot of athletes who stay an extra year when they probably shouldn’t have and don’t go out on a high and kind of limp through their final years.
“I think it is a remarkable thing to say, ‘OK, I can’t do this anymore and I am going to allow someone else to do it.”
The Rev. Justin Hoye, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City, North, was struck by the day Benedict chose for the announcement. Monday was World Day of the Sick, when Catholics focus on prayers for people who are ill.
“I don’t think Benedict made this announcement indiscriminately in terms of the timing,” Hoye said. “I think the fact he chose this date to make this announcement maybe underscores the reality that he is 85. It is a demanding position to hold.”
The possibility of having a new pope by Easter represents “a season of renewal. It’s a time for new starts,” said Jeff Weis, the organizer of a petition calling for the resignation of Finn, who was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse.
“Yes, church leaders do resign. Not every high-ranking position is held until death,” Weis said. “So the impression of bishops, popes, never resigning has been broken.”
Huntz said the next pope will have to deal inherited challenges, such as the issues of sexual abuse and world-wide social justice. But changing technology will also be important.
“One of the things Pope Benedict had to deal with is, essentially, how quickly information flows in the world and trying to in a 24/7 news cycle keep up with that pace of proclaiming the messages they want to proclaim,” Hoye said. “The other challenge would be certainly on how you make the gospel of Jesus and how do you present that so people think it is relevant and the message they want to hear with all of the competing voices.”