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Pope’s resignation not surprising to some

Published 5:38pm Monday, February 11, 2013


Pope Benedict XVI, 85, said Monday he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties. On Feb. 28, he will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.

The pope dropped the bombshell in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even close confederates, though he made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or infirm to do the job.

That’s why what Benedict called a “decision of great importance for the life of the church” didn’t surprise the Rev. Kevin Covert, pastor at Dowagiac’s Holy Maternity of Mary Catholic Church.

“I’m surprised he actually did it,” Covert said of the “refreshing” decision by the “strong-willed German.”

“It really is freeing in a subtle way. The church can choose its leadership and not have it forced upon us” with the urgency that follows a death.

William J. Martin also was not surprised by the resignation of a man five years younger than himself.

“I can relate,” the former Silver Creek Township supervisor said. “He’s not capable of functioning because he lacks the energy. The energy level’s not there anymore.”

Martin retired from the Internal Revenue Service in February 1979, then spent 10 years as supervisor. He no longer prepares income taxes.

“I spend more time in my La-Z-Boy than in my yard,” Martin said, “so I think he’s doing the right thing.”

Bishop Paul J. Bradley of the Kalamazoo diocese, who met the pope, received the news “with great surprise.”

“Almost eight years ago,” Bradley said in a statement, “Pope Benedict was chosen to lead the church as the 266th Vicar of Christ and his guidance, teaching and pastoral governance have moved the church forward into a time of renewal through the call to a new evangelization.”

His diocese encompasses 5,337 square miles of nine counties in southwest Michigan, including Cass, Berrien and Van Buren, with 59 parishes and 22 Catholic schools.

“While certainly unprecedented in modern history,” Bradley said, “this decision made by Pope Benedict is another sign of his tremendous humility and great wisdom. As he told his cardinals earlier today in Rome, ‘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.”

“I had the great privilege to meet our Holy Father on two separate occasions — the most recent early last year when I was pleased to present to him a spiritual bouquet representing thousands of prayers from the faithful in our diocese,” Bradley said.

“His decision allows now for an orderly time of transition as the cardinals will come together in conclave sometime in March, to be guided by the Holy Spirit in the selection of the 267th Vicar of Christ on earth to continue where Pope Benedict XVI has brought us,” Bradley said.

Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican stressed no specific medical condition prompted Benedict’s decision, but, in recent years, the pope has slowed down significantly, cutting back his foreign travel and limiting his audiences. He now goes to and from the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica on a moving platform, to spare him the long walk down the aisle. He occasionally uses a cane.

Popes are allowed to resign; church law specifies only that the resignation be “freely made and properly manifested.” But few have.

The last pope to quit was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415. The most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.

When Benedict was elected at 78, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years and had planned to retire as the Vatican’s chief orthodoxy watchdog to spend his final years writing in the “peace and quiet” of his native Bavaria.

The Vatican said immediately after his resignation Benedict would go to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome, then live in a cloistered monastery.



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