Papal surprise: Local Catholics respond to resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
In the recent movie “Habemus Papam” (“We Have a Pope”), Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti presents a newly elected pope who, feeling inadequate to the task, panics and runs off into the streets of Rome.
“On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years. The church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s successor.”
It was a respectful portrayal of doubt and power and institutional faith, admired by the Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston. It also highlighted the distinctions between life in the Vatican and life outside its walls, as well as the renowned secrecy of the Holy See.
Local residents react to Pope Benedict’s announcement
“My initial reaction was deep sadness. He’s been such a strong and loving leader. For Catholics, it is very much like a father-child relationship. He’s a father figure.”Dan Lord, director of Christian education and evangelization at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist“I have felt rather sorry for Pope Benedict since elevation to pope. He had to follow one of the most popular and active popes in the history of the church. However, he has succeeded in doing a fine job in transitioning the universal church into the era of mass communication and has taken small steps to open the door to changes many Catholics are hoping for.”Thomas F. Hartnett, parishioner of St. Mary of the Annunciation“What really epitomizes him is his ability to communicate orthodox truths in a voice that is very loving and kind. Pope Benedict walked that line well.” Christopher Davies, recent Catholic convert and Mount Pleasant resident“(Pope Benedict) inspired a lot of youthful energy in the church, even though he was older. So, obviously, there is a lot of sadness.” Richard White, youth minister at St. Thomas the Apostle in North Charleston“I’m filled with happiness for Pope Benedict who, with profound humility and courage, has listened and responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and is surely experiencing the peace that comes with doing so. He has been such a gift to me and to our church, and I miss him already.”Hallie Lord, Mount Pleasant mother and Catholic blogger“Last May, I was fortunate to be part of a group from the Province of Atlanta which met with the pope during the Ad Limina visit. Our discussion with the Holy Father focused on life in the church within our growing region and the use of social media as an evangelization tool. During the meeting, Pope Benedict seemed physically tired; he wore the expression of an 85-year-old man dealing with his age. However, he was emotionally animated especially when the conversation shifted to the use of technology.”Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone“I’m saddened about it, because he was a very, very good pope. I hope and pray that God will give us another good pope.”Viola Whittington, parishioner of St. Thomas“When he was announced, I thought he was too old. I’m astonished by his energy, his knowledge, his understanding, his willing(ness) to travel, to speak to people. It shows how much humans know. God really knows.”Victoria Doyle, parishioner of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist“Cardinals are probably ready for the conclave. Personally, I’m pulling for someone from South America. South America has given so much to the church.”Mary Olimpio, parishioner of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
It’s possible the world will never know more than what 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI has already announced: that he is resigning his post because of deteriorating health. It’s also possible that that reason is reason enough.
Only in recent decades has the job of pope entailed so much travel and interaction and fast-paced decision-making, Guglielmone said during a news conference Monday.
“The demands of the present age and the constant speed at which so much happens because of technology — so much has changed,” he said.
The announcement surprised nearly all observers and filled international media with speculation, concern, praise and wonder.
“This is kind of an exciting morning,” quipped Guglielmone at the onset of the press conference. “I thought it was going to be a quiet, simple day.” The bishop went on to say that the pope’s decision is a clear sign of his commitment and love for the church, and he noted that, during a visit last year with the Holy Father, the pope appeared physically tired.
The pope, who has served in that role for eight years, will step down Feb. 28, at which point the seat of St. Peter will be vacant. A gathering of 117 cardinals from around the world will be convened at the Vatican in March; they will elect a new pontiff.
The election comes at a difficult moment for the church, which continues to face challenges stemming from the ongoing child sex-abuse scandal and must contend with large-scale political and religious shifts in the Middle East, Africa, South America and elsewhere.
Its assertion of Catholic orthodoxy under Pope Benedict has resulted in high-profile ideological battles in the U.S. over issues such as contraception, abortion and stem-cell research. And it must manage these issues even as the church struggles in America to sustain its school and parish populations, both of which have seen significant declines.
Pope Benedict’s resignation, the first in almost 600 years, could have a lasting impact, the bishop said.
“It opens up a whole new way of looking at the papacy,” he said. Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, at one point also drew up a letter of resignation, Guglielmone pointed out.
The last time a pope left his position while still alive was in 1415, when Gregory XII stepped down in the midst of the Western Schism.
Guglielmone said his feelings are mixed. The pope steps down leaving “a lot of work unfinished” and many Catholics feeling sad. On the other hand, “after seeing him, I understand,” the bishop said. The church needs someone with energy and stamina, “somebody who is going to respond to the needs of the church.”
Kathy Zolman, a parishioner at Church of the Nativity on James Island, said she was very surprised by the pope’s announcement and worried that the Feb. 28 date won’t allow enough time to transfer authority to a new pontiff.
She said she generally preferred John Paul II over Benedict. “There was something about him; he seemed very caring. I hope that they select someone who can move the church into this day and age.”
Camille Stebbins, who attends the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, said she was shocked at hearing of the pope’s resignation.
“I see his point of view, but I was always of the belief that when you’re pope, you die a pope,” Stebbins said. “And it makes me a little scared: what is this going to do to the church?” Are there other issues at play?
Rueben Solar, a parishioner at the cathedral and Stebbins’ brother-in-law, said he wasn’t terribly concerned.
“My thought originally with Pope Benedict was that he reluctantly accepted that position,” Solar said. “Not that he didn’t want it, not that he didn’t aspire to it. I think he just accepted the will of God. I never got the impression it was something he wanted to do in terms of making his mark in the history of Catholicism.”
He said electing a new pope always is “a momentous time for Catholics.”
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Solar said, an opportunity to return to the roots of the faith tradition.
Dan Lord, director of Christian education and evangelization at the cathedral, was among those who admired the pope’s humility in conceding he has become too physically weak to carry out his duties.
“It takes a very humble person,” Lord said. “But everyone understands and believes in what he is doing.”
Richard White, who leads a young adult Catholic Bible study, admired Pope Benedict for refusing to be distracted by those who said he couldn’t live up to Pope John Paul II’s legacy or was too conservative.
“He defied expectations,” White said. “He ignored those predictions and criticisms.”
White said that Benedict was known especially for his theological writings but that he is hoping the next pope will be a bold speaker.
“I’m looking for someone orthodox and true to the faith and to finding new ways to reach out to Christians and other faiths as well,” said White, who with his wife recently began serving as youth minister at St. Thomas the Apostle in North Charleston.
Guglielmone said he remembered how Benedict, though appearing fatigued physically, became animated when the subject turned to social media and evangelism at last year’s meeting. “He just lit up and really became very excited about that,” the bishop said.
He also remembered an exchange between his 89-year-old predecessor, Bishop David B. Thompson, and the aging pontiff who expressed admiration for Thompson’s retired state.
“Oh, you have time to write, time to read, time to pray,” the pope said.
“And time to golf,” Thompson added.Jennifer Berry Hawes contributed to this report. Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook.com/aparkerwriter.