Pope Benedict XVI's announcement on Monday morning that he will resign on Feb. 28, after less than eight years in office, has taken many Roman Catholics by surprise.
"It was a surprise in the sense that it hasn't happened since the 15th century," said The Rev. Msgr. Donald Hanson, the pastor of the Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton Village.
According to The New York Times, the 85-year-old Pope cited his declined health, but since being elected in 2005, after the death of John Paul II, Benedict's reign has been somewhat overshadowed by clerical abuse scandals.
However, Hanson said Pope Benedict "hinted around" that it may be better for the church to resign papacy that to die a Pope if health problems arise. "He lived through the long decline of his predecessor . . . It became, to observers, that it was not only very difficult for the Pope, but for the other leaders in Rome — they started to compete with each other," he recalled.
Hanson said Benedict's decision to leave the papacy is "a good thing."
"I'm not saying that in a sense that I'm happy to be rid of him — I like him and I like a lot of what he wrote — but he did it for the good of the church," Hanson said.
"I thought it took courage on his part to buck the tide," Hanson said. "I thought this was very thoughtful and really loving on the part of Benedict — he knows he not up to the job anymore and he's making his way for someone else."
After the announcement, Hanson read the Pope's statement off the Vatican's wire and this stood out. "He said, in essence, that in this day in age, when things change so fast, he was just not up to, either physically or mentally, keeping up with everything."
"It shows, even though in this very ancient and in many ways conservative institution, it can still do new things, innovative things to meet the times," Hanson said.
Hanson does not believe that the Pope's resignation will have any impact on local congregations. A new bishop would have more impact locally, he said, but the Pope's position is still so far removed and the Vatican has laws in place that govern the local churches. "I think you'll see continuity," he said.
We asked local Catholics to weigh in on Facebook. Here's some of their responses.
- PJ Delia said, "I'm not a good, practicing Catholic, but I do have an opinion. I think Benedict is doing what Popes should have been doing all along, retiring when they feel they can no longer be effective. Too long they've been acting like monarchs (with a divine right until they die) instead of shepherds (leading as best they can). Also, he has managed to keep the church going through a very rough time. He must be exhausted.
- Sharon Marie Buckler said, "Age has nothing to do with being ineffective. I am happy that he realized that he is not going to [be] effective so stepped down. It's a very hard decision at best for anyone to make. God Bless."
- Andy Lexus said, "It is a situation that can happen to a person who has many years, I think that responsibility is very tired for a person of that age, maybe they should designate a person younger, but is no reason to affect the faith, Catholics must be more United and trust that person's successor is someone who knows also guide people. God knows why they do things. Each person has their faith and devotion, not to seek to blame or simply criticize, sometimes more critics are people who are worse and look for mistakes of others to feel that are better than others, in a few words is somewhat hypocritical, nobody is perfect in this world, if their religion is different from the others. That is my opinion and respect if others have a different opinion."
How do you feel about Pope Benedict's decision? Leave a comment below.