NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The announcement Monday that Pope Benedict XVI will resign the papacy at the end of the month was a surprise to local Catholics, who now await word on a successor to lead the church.
Citing his age and frailty, Benedict said in a speech Monday that he will resign the papacy on Feb. 28. He will become the first pontiff to resign since the Middle Ages.
"(I)n today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," the pope said on Monday, according to the Vatican.
Benedict will continue to reside at a residence in the Vatican, according to an article published Monday by the San Jose Mercury News. However, what title Benedict will carry as a former pope must still be determined, the paper reported.
Local Catholics, including Father William Kelley of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Bennington, were taken aback by the sudden announcement.
"That came as a surprise to me and everybody else, as far as I know," Kelley said. "I think it's been since the middle ages since it happened before."
Kelley said such a resignation "always was possible" given Benedict's age. "It's not common, but it was always possible," he said.
Reaction among readers varied, with some expressing skepticism that Benedict would step down just because of his age. Matt Bortell wondered, "What did he get caught doing" in response to a Facebook posting by the Banner seeking reactions.
Margaret Tobin of Pownal, meanwhile, noted the pope's advanced age of 85.
One reader asked, "who cares?"
Sue Chabot Channel wrote that "Many people DO care."
"I think it was a very humble decision and clearly one he chose for the best interest of the church," she posted.
Justine Curry expressed skepticism in the role of the pope.
"I grew up Catholic but I still could never understand all the rules. I don't like the idea of a mortal man putting himself between myself and God. Putting any human on a pedestal is simply idol worship. Those are my two cents," she wrote.
The process of selecting a new pope will begin next month, the Vatican said. All cardinals under the age of 80 will vote in conclave inside the Vatican. Two-thirds of the 120 or so cardinals must choose the next pope.
Kelley said Monday he is unsure who is likely to succeed Benedict. "As of now, I don't know of anyone who is a contender," Kelley said.
However, the local priest said cardinals that who are spoken about the most as potential successors to the papacy early in the process often are not selected by their fellow cardinals in the conclave.
The cardinals tend to select someone that fits with the times, according to Kelley. "There's a wonder about it, kind of the unknown, in the sense that each one tends to be the person that is needed at that time," he said.
Kelley said he has faith that the next pope will be chosen by the cardinals with guidance from God.
"I really do believe that God is somehow guiding. I'm not saying there's a red phone, or anything like that. But, just the fact that the church has survived 2,000 years is unusual, because things usually don't survive that long," he said.
Bishop Salvatore Matano, who heads the Vermont Diocese in Burlington, released a statement Monday recognizing Benedicts resignation.
"Our Holy Father's resignation demonstrates once again his extraordinary love for the Church and her cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Placing the proclamation of the Gospel and the salvation of souls above all else, 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," the statement reads, in part.
Contact Neal Goswami at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NealGoswami