UDATE: Pope Benedict XVI to resign, cites poor health

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Updated: February 11, 2013, 6:19 PM

 

Local Catholics urged to keep faith

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI sparked surprise, appreciation — and trust in God.

"Yes, it is coming up in our classrooms," said Ed Chan, campus minister at Seton Catholic College Preparatory High School in central Vancouver. "Students are asking who the new pope is going to be. But it's a mystery. Nobody has any idea."

Chan said Benedict's resignation due to frail health "is a very humble way of him dealing with his role. It is based on great conscience and great discernment. The immediate thing for any

Catholic is to remain trustful and trust that this is part of God's plan and the working of the Holy Spirit. We have to trust this is a good thing that's happening."

The secret voting that will take place among cardinals at the Vatican in March "is a joyous and exciting time," Chan said.

The Archbishop of Seattle, J. Peter Sartain — leader of the Catholic Church in Western Washington — released a statement Monday saying he had "strongly mixed feelings" about the pope's resignation.

"His decision is clearly a very personal, spiritual one, and it expresses his unfailing care and concern for the church he has served tirelessly throughout his life," Sartain said.

"Having had the opportunity to meet (Benedict) on several occasions, I have always been struck by his humility and kindness," Sartain said. "A brilliant theologian, he is also a caring pastor who looks one straight in the eye and listens carefully. His 2008 visit to the United States was a landmark occasion for many of us, and I was personally moved by his presence."

Sartain promised to pray for Benedict's health, and for the cardinals who will elect the next pope.

The outgoing Archbishop of Portland, John Vlazny, who will step down April 2, said the pope's announcement, while "totally unexpected, is consistent with his understanding and embrace of all ministry in the church as a service to the church and the world."

— Scott Hewitt, The Columbian

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI, saying he no longer has the strength to lead the world's 1 billion Catholics, will resign from the papacy at the end of the month, the first such abdication in almost 600 years.

"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 said Monday in an address to senior church officials in Rome.

Pope Benedict, the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, said his resignation would take effect at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. He will step down two months before his 86th birthday after serving for almost eight years as pontiff after succeeding John Paul II.

The resignation of Benedict may reopen rifts within the Church as pressure builds to name a pope from the developing world where Catholicism is growing and offsetting declines in Europe and the United States. The new pope will be chosen through a conclave, a special gathering of cardinals who are sequestered in Sistine Chapel at the Vatican until they can agree on a successor.

Benedict will have no role in choosing his successor, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said at a press conference in Rome. The pope will initially retire to his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo before transferring to live in a convent, Lombardi said.

Benedict will become the first pontiff to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, and the announcement took even senior church officials by surprise, Lombardi said. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said on the sidelines of an event in Milan that he was very shaken by the unexpected news, Ansa reported.

A traditionalist, Benedict succeeded John Paul II on April 19, 2005, after spending a quarter century as the enforcer of doctrine in an office formerly known as the Inquisition. A bookish scholar, Benedict spent years penning by hand his philosophical take on life of Jesus Christ in a three-volume book. He was an enemy of "moral relativism" and considered it his main job to resist the changes sweeping modern society.

"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goals one's own ego and one's own desires," he said a day before the conclave of cardinals met to elect him pope.

After his election as pontiff, he compared the job he was about to accept with a guillotine falling toward his neck, and to capital punishment.

"He is probably the first pope in history to compare his election with a death sentence," said John Allen Jr., author of "Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith."

Succeeding a revered pope who was swiftly put on the path to sainthood, Benedict discovered not only that he couldn't match John Paul II's charisma but that some of the failings of his predecessor would come to haunt his own papacy.

The church came in for criticism at the start of his tenure for doing too little to punish pedophile priests and even covering up evidence of their abuse.

As the global credit crisis unfolded, Benedict found his voice as an advocate for a new financial and social order in the aftermath of the market meltdown. As an octogenarian, he published a well-timed, 150-page encyclical calling for a new economic order with "real teeth."

Still, the recurring theme of his papacy was a personal battle against relativism, wherein religious truth and practices are malleable to suit lifestyle demands of changing cultures. Until the end, he argued it would be a mistake to compromise on ideology to make the faith more accessible to modern societies.

That is not to say that Benedict, who preferred to write by hand, wasn't dragged into the 21st century by outside pressure to appear in touch with the times. He even set up a Twitter account this year.

For example, Benedict reviewed the church's much-criticized and outdated stance on contraception. He commissioned a 200-page report to explore the effect the use of condoms could have in stopping the spread of infectious diseases, including AIDS. The effort eventually yielded to a more practical attitude to sex. In 2010, Benedict said that condom use can be justified in "single cases," for example by sex workers, as a necessary "humanization of sexuality."

Benedict was the first German pontiff since Victor II in the 11th century and the oldest cardinal elected since Clement XII, who was also 78 when chosen in 1730. His fellow cardinals needed only four ballots to select him pope.

John Paul tapped then-Cardinal Ratzinger in 1981 to head a body that today is better known for putting the astronomer Galileo Galilei on trial for heresy in the 17th century. In that role, he quashed efforts by some priests to convince the Vatican to ease doctrine on issues such as celibacy for priests and took on liberal theologians such as Brazil's Leonardo Boff.

"Ratzinger would never be swayed from his beliefs," said Allen. "At his age and with his life experience, his core ideas were very well fixed."