The announcement by Pope Benedict XVI early Monday that he will step down at the end of the month came as a shock to many Catholics in Vermont.
At Our Lady of Seven Dolors in Fair Haven, the Rev. James Lawrence said he was as surprised as everyone else.
“It caught a lot of people off guard, but it sounds very reasonable,” Lawrence said. “His Holiness is 85 years old. ... CBS has a Vatican reporter who said he saw His Holiness recently and said he looked very fragile.”
Robert Lukeaskiewicz, dean of students at the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, said that although he knows church history, for a moment he thought the news was a prank being played. He said a resignation has not happened in modern history — the last was by Pope Gregory XII in 1415 — and many people probably did not know there was a provision for it.
“I think most Catholics felt the same way,” he said. “It will be a time of transition. Anytime there is a transition there is bound to be some uncertainty.”
Lukeaskiewicz, who teaches theology, called the decision a selfless act by a man who understands his post requires a certain amount of physical energy that he just did not have.
“We are talking about a leader of 1 billion Catholics,” he said. “That is a huge weight.”
Vermont Bishop Salvatore Matano issued a statement Monday afternoon about the pope’s decision to retire, saying it causes great sadness as he has “carved out a place in our hearts and it shall never be erased.”
Matano called the resignation a demonstration of the pope’s “extraordinary love for the church and her cornerstone, Jesus Christ.”
“Placing the proclamation of the Gospel and the salvation of souls above all else,” Matano wrote in the statement, “His Holiness accepts in humility that his age and health do not permit him to fulfill the duties of his office as he would wish.”
Matano, touching upon the upcoming search for the pope’s successor, said: “We also invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit that He will enlighten the minds and hearts of the College of Cardinals when they gather in solemn conclave to elect the next successor to St. Peter and Pope Benedict XVI.”
For Lukeaskiewicz, the next several weeks will be interesting for Catholics because it is something that has never happened in recent history.
“What will his title be?” he asked. “We have never had a retired pope in modern history. ... We may never see this again in our lifetime or our children’s lifetimes. It’s a historic moment.”
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