Catholics praise pope for decision
HUNTINGTON -- It was already an eventful week in the Catholic community, with Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of the Lenten season, said the Rev. Dean Borgmeyer, priest at Huntington's St. Joseph Catholic Church.
It became even more significant on Monday when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation as the leader of more than a billion Catholics worldwide. Citing failing health, he announced that he will resign on Feb. 28 after nearly eight years as pontiff.
"By announcing his resignation today, Pope Benedict XVI is showing the great love and devotion he has for the Church, specifically his devotion to Christ our savior," the Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said in a press release. "The Holy Father is being realistic about his physical limitations at this time in his life. I admire him for his courage and humility."
The resignation is significant on at least two fronts, local Catholics said.
"It's the first time in 600 years a Holy Father has resigned in office, so it's going to be uncharted waters in terms of his presence in the church afterwards," Borgmeyer said.
Also, "He's the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world. It affects every country, people all around the world," said the Rev. Jim Sobus, priest at Our Lady of Fatima Church.
"If you stop and think about the amount of responsibility he has at the age of 85 -- I couldn't do it," Sobus said. "I know what I can do at 58 compared with 38. To be 85 and have that responsibility... Most people can't conceive being responsible for (the Catholic church throughout the world)."
Sobus described Benedict as "a great theologian and great thinker." Among other contributions, his term brought about the introduction of the Catholic church's new prayer book, called a Sacramentary.
"That's the prayer book we use every day at Mass," Sobus said. "It replaced the one before it, which had been current since the 1960s. That's about 50 years."
Nicole Liette Terrell of Columbus, Ohio, was a Marshall University student and member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 2008 when she was among a group of 26 West Virginians selected to travel to Australia with Pope Benedict for World Youth Day.
"In Australia, it was amazing to see the energy that surrounded him," she said. "I'm sure it is exhausting spiritually, mentally and physically to be pope."
His need to resign is "sad, but it's obviously the right thing to do if he's not able, physically, to carry out his duties," said David Tyson, a member of Our Lady of Fatima. "It's a very demanding job to be in charge of 1.2 billion Catholics all over the world. He's over the church, and the Vatican is also a state, and to run it as well, it's an awesome responsibility."
The news didn't come as a complete surprise to all. Sobus said he had seen an interview with Benedict's brother, who mentioned that the pope's health may cause him to retire.
"Those who have been watching the Holy Father in papal Masses on EWTN, they have been remarking about how weak he looks. There are no short Masses in Rome," Borgmeyer said.
"His schedule and other duties he has as Holy Father are demanding, so I'm not surprised, and I'm happy that he's setting a precedent for future men elected that, when it becomes a burden, it's not a bad thing or inopportune thing to retire."
Benedict's replacement will work amid an ever-changing world, he said.
"If you go back on precedence, the historical time we live in now is different than it was eight years ago," he said. "The new pontiff has to speak not only to the Catholic community, which is over a billion people, but also interact with the Jewish people and Muslims and always work toward peace and justice, and that's not always easy to do."
It was a relatively short term for Benedict, compared with his predecessor. Benedict was elected pope in 2005 following of the death of Pope John Paul II, who had led the church for 27 years.
They each had their own style.
"Following John Paul II, who was a frequent flier and went to so many countries and was so charismatic in his own right, this pope had to follow a very active Holy Father," Borgmeyer said. "He had to be true to his own self. He had his own persona. Both were intellectual men, but Pope Benedict had a different way of presenting the truth than John Paul II had."
When it comes to the selection of a new pope, it's likely to be announced the first week in March, he said.
"I told the people today, there are really only three choices: maintain our current way of being a church, or become more conservative or to have more dialogue with the liberal world," Borgmeyer said. "I think everyone is hoping for their own perspective to be elected."
He encouraged local Catholics to spend this Lenten season praying for the leaders of the Catholic church during the election process.
"What's unusual with this one is that, with John Paul, he was sick for so long there were more articles about who the runners-up were, jockeying for position," Borgmeyer said. "This is happening so suddenly, I don't think we'll see as much of that."
Sister Gail Borgmeyer, president of Pallottine Health Services and sister to Father Dean of St. Joe, said there is a sense of relief that a pope is recognizing his limitations.
"There's such humility in saying, 'The problems and the direction of the church need a strong person at the helm, and that's not me,' " she said. "That's a witness to a lot of people.
"Think about how painful it was watching John Paul II when he started going downhill. I am glad for (Pope Benedict) and the whole church that he can die in dignity and not have the whole world watching him."
She imagines that before he became pope, he was watching John Paul II through his failing health and "how it affected the people and the indecision at the time, when the pope couldn't act," she said. "When you think about all the things going on in the world, and if you think about the pomp and ceremony of the position -- all that (goes on) for Easter -- there's no way he could do that."
Sister Diane Bushee, vice president for Mission Integration at St. Mary's Medical Center, was among local Catholics who were surprised by the announcement.
"I was totally surprised. It hasn't happened for so many centuries," she said. "It wasn't anything that you really expect, but he did the right thing. I don't know what's going to happen down the road or who will replace him. That's the big question mark. But for him, I think he made the right decision."