The pope — born Joseph Ratzinger — citing ailing health, announced the news early Monday morning. The 85-year-old was elected pope in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II. His resignation will take effect Feb. 28.
Father Bryan Lowe of Anniston’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church said that while the news was a surprise to everyone — the last such papal resignation was in 1415 — the pope’s health problems were widely known.
“He basically told the cardinals that he realized that he just didn’t have the physical and mental energy that it took to do what it took to lead the church today,” Lowe said. “That he realized that it’s just a little different challenge as quickly as things change today.”
In sickness or on health, Lowe said, what’s important for Catholics to understand is, “We trust that the Holy Spirit is leading, and that whoever is in charge is going to do it the right way. Do it God’s way. That’s the challenge all the time.”
But will a new pope mean changes in the daily goings-on at his church? Lowe said no, but each new person does bring with them a distinct perspective. That perspective has been much more global in recent years. Lowe said that centuries ago the church was much more European.
“I think they each bring their own particular gifts, but we believe ultimately it’s the Holy Spirit guiding things. And so we believe the right person will be there doing it, but it’s going to depend on what country they come from,” Lowe said.
As for what Benedict will do come March, Lowe said he suspects he will remove himself from the public eye.
“He said something about wanting to serve in prayer,” Lowe said, which he thinks may mean the pope will retire to a monastery.
“I think at some point you say, I want to go and I want to pray, and I’m here if church leaders want to come talk to me, not every time there’s a question about what would you have done,” Lowe said.
Jacksonville resident Mike Abrams attends St. Joachim Catholic Church in Piedmont. Abrams said the news came as a shock, but what followed was his realization that such a decision can only come from great sacrifice.
“I was listening to music this morning and someone called me to tell me the news, and I was shocked,” Abrams said. “And then I thought this particular man, who was selected to be the successor to Peter, has really put his own self second to the needs of the church. For me, it helps me respect the man that much more.
“The only thing I wonder now, is while having to believe the Holy Spirit will continue to guide and direct, you wonder what kind of direction this will take the church, and where we will be later this year and in the years to come?” Abrams asked.
Piedmont resident and lifelong Catholic Bill Baker said that the 50 or so worshippers who attend St. Joachim each Sunday will continue to do so, regardless of who is pope.
“If the man has health problems and he feels not capable of leading the church, my hat’s off to him,” Baker said. “The church will proceed on as normal.”
Ron Neal shares similar views, and said it’s too early to tell what direction the church may take under a new pope. Neal attends St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Jacksonville, and said that his first reaction to the news was also that of surprise, but that he expects little change at St. Charles.
No matter the man under the hat, Neal said just as he always is, he’ll be in church next week.
“We don’t plan to make changes in our church activities,” Neal said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.