Pope’s announcement to resign a surprise for local Catholic leaders

STEUBENVILLE – The resignation announcement early today by Pope Benedict XVI, “is breaking new ground for all of us,” according to the acting dean of the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s theology department.

“I don’t think many people expected the announcement. And probably most people were surprised,” professor Alan Schreck said this morning.

The pope announced early today he would resign effective Feb. 28, setting the stage for a conclave of the College of Cardinals to meet in order to elect a new pope before the end of March.

The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals this morning.

“Pope Benedict is in weakened health and the burden of his office is trying. And it is not unusual for the Holy Father to consider resigning if he felt he could not carry on,” Schreck said.

“I believe Pope Benedict is resigning in good conscience. He is a very conscientious person. He obviously decided he couldn’t carry on the demands of the office. I also believe all Catholics will understand his decision,” noted Schreck.

“This is all new ground for everyone. There hasn’t been a precedent for a papal resignation for more than 600 years. I assume Pope Benedict will go into a retirement setting. And I am pretty sure Pope Benedict will not want to intervene in the process of selecting his successor. I am sure he will not use his influence in any way. He has been called by God to step down and I believe he will lead a quiet and reflective life,” said Schreck.

“A role for Pope Benedict will depend on the man who becomes pope. He may seek counsel from Pope Benedict, but that will be up to the new pope. Pope Benedict has made the decision based on his health. I for one feel very grateful for the wisdom he has brought us and for his guidance of the church,” observed Schreck.

“We must remember a pope dying in office is a custom, but not a tradition. I believe Pope Benedict’s decision to resign has been done for the good of the church. His first priority has always been the good of the church,” Schreck said.

The Rev. Terence Henry, president of the university, said this morning he will look back “with gratitude for the eight years Pope Benedict has shepherded the church.”

“During his eight years as the Holy Father he has left a real legacy. And I am sure he has made a good decision to resign based on his health,” Henry said.

“Our prayers will remain with the universal church as it prepares for the transition to a new pope,” stated Henry.

“Pope Benedict will long be remembered for the clarity of his teachings. He made it clear our culture is adrift. And he taught us the only way to get out of that drift is to be faithful to Jesus Christ. The Holy Father also made it clear our human beings and dignity are under attack. He really nailed it on that issue,” continued Henry.

“He was also very clear in his writings on the role of education and Catholic universities and how important those universities are for our faith and our future,” added Henry.