The news this morning of Pope Benedict XVI's impending Feb. 28 resignation has shocked the local religious community, but at least one local church leader is proud of the 85-year old pontiff.
“I was very surprised because it's been more than 600 years since a Pope has resigned,” said Pastor Michael A. Hanly of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Verona.
The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants, according to a report on NJ.com earlier today.
Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation early Monday morning citing the deterioration of his strength affecting his ability to perform his papal duties.
“It reminds me of Moses giving the mantle to Joshua,” said Hanly. “When Moses came to Mount Nebo before the people crossed into the Promised Land he took off his cloak, a symbol of responsibility and passed it onto Joshua who led the people into the promised land.”
Hanly called the resignation “bittersweet” because they will be losing a “brilliant Pope,” but it will set precedent and break the conception the Pope has to die while in office. It will be easier for older Popes to step down in the future if they feel they cannot fulfill their duties, he said.
“God bless him,” said Hanly. “I'm proud of him.”
The cardinals will go to Rome and start out with a mass before forming a Conclave, which Hanly said means “with the key.”
They cardinals will lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel to pray and ask God to discern who he has chosen as the new Pope,” said Hanly. The new Pope is chosen based on two-thirds of a majority vote.
“The Conclave is made up of cardinals from all over the world,” he said. “We could have another European Pope or possibly one from the Third world.”
Hanly said he is very curious to see where Pope Benedict XVI will go after his resignation.
Wherever he goes, he will leave a legacy of spirituality and intelligence, said Hanly.
“He brought a good spirituality in his writings and wrote three beautiful volumes on Jesus,” he said. “He had a great love for scripture, the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish people.”
Monsignor Robert Slipe of St. Catherine of Siena in Cedar Grove said he was shocked when he heard the news but has faith that God will guide the church through the transition.
“I usually listen to the news first thing in the morning but this time I didn't,” said Slipe on Monday. “When I turned on the news around 8 a.m. I couldn't believe my ears.”
“Pope Benedict XVI gave us an extremely intelligent and scholarly approach to our faith,” he said. “Everything he said came out of a deep well of scholarly study and he is a man of first class intelligence.”
Slipe said he has confidence that God guides the church in these major movements and that he has faith that “God will guide us in the future,” he added.