Mt. Pleasant area church leaders react to planned resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
A early morning text message that the Rev. Rick Kosisko received on his cell phone Monday left him stunned.
“A friend who was already awake had their TV on and they told me to turn mine on,” said Kosisko, pastor of Mt. Pleasant's partner parishes of St. Pius X and Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Diocese of Greensburg.
The text message further detailed the news that Pope Benedict XVI had just announced that he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and on Feb. 28 will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
“I said it had to be a joke, but I turned the television on and saw that was what the news stations were reporting,” Kosisko said. “It came very much as a shock to me.”
He was not alone.
The timing of Benedict's planned retirement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for the world's 1 billion Catholics.
The 85-year-old pope uttered his announcement in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators, even though Benedict had made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job.
“All the cardinals remained shocked and were looking at each other,” said Monsignor Oscar Sanchez of Mexico who was in the room when Benedict made his announcement.
Benedict called his choice “a decision of great importance for the life of the church.”
“I really think he did this for the good of the church,” Kosisko said. “He certainly realizes the role of Holy Father is to guide the church and the person doing that needs to be very visible, and very present.”
Benedict's announcement allows the Vatican to hold a conclave before Easter to elect a new pope, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed.
It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals — the princes of the church who will elect the next pope — to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had an intimate view as Pope John Paul II, with whom he had worked closely for nearly a quarter-century, suffered through the debilitating end of his papacy.
Following John Paul's death in 2005, he was elected pope April 19 of that year.
“(Pope Benedict) watched John Paul's health deteriorate, and a man of (Benedict's) brilliance and integrity would want to give what he knows is necessary to lead the church,” said the Very Rev. Daniel C. Mahoney, the administrator of St. Florian Parish in United, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Latrobe and vicar forane of the diocese's Deanery IV. “What this man has to do is incredible. Running the church, receiving people every day, meeting with Castries, conducting public ceremonies ... the pope is a working pope, not just a figurehead.
“It was, in a sense, a surprise, but it kind of made sense.”
The Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict's decision.
In recent years, however, the pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences.
Benedict emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope — the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide — 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.
“In order to govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” he said.
Popes are allowed to resign; church law specifies only that the resignation be “freely made and properly manifested.” But only a handful have done it.
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 most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.
When Benedict was elected at age 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years.
On Monday, Benedict said he would serve the church for the remainder of his days “through a life dedicated to prayer.”
The Vatican said immediately after his resignation, Benedict would go to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome, and then would live in a cloistered monastery.
Both Kosisko and Mahoney said they would continue to pray for Pope Benedict as his retirement date nears and encourage members of their respective parishes to do the same.
“I'm sure we'll be called by our local Bishop (Lawrence E. Brandt) to remember Pope Benedict and, approaching Feb. 28, to pray for his successor and the cardinals who will choose him,” Kosisko said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tribune-Review News Service contributed to this article.