In a statement released by the pope on Monday, he cites health concerns and awareness that he can no longer fulfill the duties of the office.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he wrote.
Bishop Joseph Strickland, head of the Tyler diocese, commended Pope Benedict as “a wonderful servant of the church” and speculated about the future given the unusual circumstances.
“It will be interesting to see what it’s going to be like to have a retired pope around,” he said. “We have no precedent in modern times. The last time a pope resigned was 300 years before the United States was founded.”
Still, Strickland had confidence that the proceedings would be “guided by the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Though the pope’s announcement comes only days before the beginning of Lent on Wednesday, Strickland didn’t think it would negatively affect participants. He urges members of the diocese to pray and suggested that priests hold thanksgiving Masses for the pope’s service.
While criticisms circulate about the move from other parts of the world, Catholics in Tyler are calling it “courageous.”
“He came to a point in his life where he couldn’t keep up with the rigors of his duties,” said John Petosa, who celebrated the noon Mass at the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul on Monday. “He probably prayed and reflected on it. I respect him. It’s a courageous decision. Each of us gets to that point where we know we can’t do something well anymore. It’s difficult to get to that place in life.”
Jim Franz, principal of Bishop T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School, said the announcement seemed to catch Catholics worldwide off guard.
“I think the pope’s decision even caught some of those close to him off guard, an unprecedented decision for the modern world,” he said.
Franz was among 350 educators who heard from the pope during his 2008 visit to the United States.
“He’s been a strong leader in an interesting place because he came after a very popular pope, John Paul II,” Franz said.
This pope will be remembered as a man who was a strong leader and a strong thinker, he said.
“Among popes, he’s probably one of the most intellectual popes we’ve had,” Franz said. “He has the heart of the pastor, the mind of the thinker.”
He said the event provides a learning opportunity for students, most of whom were too young to understand the process when this pope was chosen in 2005.
Bishop Gorman theology teacher Beth Scirto said her students were abuzz with talk about the pope’s resignation when they came to class Monday.
“It was interesting that a lot of them when they came to school already new quite a bit about it,” said Mrs. Scirto, who teaches seventh- and ninth-graders.
She said she talked with the students about the resignation, using information from the news and a local Catholic leader.
She talked about the canon law, which allows the pope to resign and the selection process for the next pope.
She said there is no doubt that Pope Benedict XVI was the person to lead for the time he did and because of his age, it was obviously going to be temporary.
“He was intentional,” she said of his selection. “He was the right hand person for John Paul II.”
She said the cardinals who vote for the pope do so with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that their actions hearken back to the Acts of the Apostles.
“So that apostolic tradition has continued since then,” she said.
She said she is looking forward to seeing who is elected to be the next pope.
“I just pray that the person continues the soundness of faith tradition and is a good shepherd,” she said.
Petosa’s wife, Elena, who also celebrated Mass Monday, said, “I think the Holy Spirit has a plan, and we need to pray hard.”
She paused and gestured upward, “Thy will be done.”