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Locals react to pope’s resignation

Express surprise, optimism

Locals react to pope’s resignation

Locals react to pope’s resignation

Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful...

Editor's Note: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction, which appears in Friday's print edition: Because of incorrect information supplied, a front-page article Thursday listing the locations of the three Catholic popes during the schism when Pope Gregory XII was forced to resign in 1415 was inaccurate. The three popes at the time were based in Rome; Pisa, Italy; and Avignon, France.


   Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement this week that he will resign shocked the Roman Catholic Church, but local Catholics expressed optimism that the church will adjust and move in the right direction.
    “We’re in unchartered waters in the church now,” said Father Brett Brannen, the pastor of St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church in Statesboro. “From what I understand, Pope Benedict will move into a summer type residence for a while and will then be given an apartment at the Vatican.”
    At age 85, the aging pope announced his weakening physical condition as his main reason for stepping down. Brannen noted that Benedict had previously said he would resign if he felt he could not adequately perform his papal duties, and he agreed with the pope’s reasoning.
    “In a couple of Pope Benedict’s books, he mentioned that when a pope cannot be everything he is meant to be that he should be able to retire,” Brannen said. “I think this will help establish a precedent for future popes.”
    Even so, Benedict’s resignation truly is historic. A pope has not resigned in nearly 600 years. Pope Gregory XII was the last to do so, in 1415.
    “Since the year 1000 AD, there have been only two popes who have resigned,” said Dr. James M. Woods, a history professor at Georgia Southern University and author of “History of the Catholic Church in the American South.” “Pope Gregory XII was forced to resign due to a papal schism. Back then there were three popes: one in Rome, one in (Avignon, France) and one in Pisa.”
    “The only pope who just wanted to resign, similar to Benedict, was Pope St. Celestine V,” Woods continued. “He was a truly holy monk who served only five months before deciding to resign. He issued a proclamation saying that popes could resign; and then he actually did so in 1294, dying only two years later at the age of 81.”
    Woods said the selection of the next pope will largely determine the future direction of the Catholic Church.
    “I truly think that the church will elect a much younger pope this time and do not believe he will come from America,” he said. “Whoever is elected needs to take control of the bureaucracy of the church, and that is a huge task for anyone to accomplish.”
    The new pope will have a lot on his plate – particularly, the continuing fallout from priest sex abuse scandals in several American dioceses – that both John Paul and Benedict were not able to adequately deal with as they faced declining health.
    Woods noted that Benedict had been a close adviser to John Paul. As such, he witnessed firsthand the problems John Paul had as Parkinson’s disease took its toll during the last five years of his life.
    “These latter years were when the sex scandals came out, and a lot had to be done but was not,” Woods said. “Benedict inherited all of that. It weighed heavily upon him and quickly took its toll upon his health.”
    While top leadership is important, the local parish can seem far removed from the Vatican. Brannen said he plans to use Benedict’s announcement and the coming transition to a new pope as a teaching opportunity in his homilies during the next several weeks.
    “I will use this opportunity to keep people updated on the proceedings and do some catechesis on the papacy,” Brannen said. “It is a great opportunity to teach why we have a pope, where we believe this comes from in the teaching of Jesus, etc. I intend to encourage the people here to pray daily both for Pope Benedict and for the new pope to come.”
    Several St. Matthew’s parishioners said that while they were caught off-guard by Benedict’s resignation, they are taking the change in stride.
    “At first I was surprised, and then, well that had to show courage by the pope,” Bob Jackson said. “The church is going to move forward. The pope’s resignation does not affect my attitude towards the church at all. I believe that he did what he had to do, and I can accept that.”
    Kathy Frey, a second-grade religious education teacher at St. Matthew’s, said she admired Benedict for the way he went about making his decision.
    “The resignation was certainly a surprise, but I think of what great humility the pope had in realizing that he could no longer hold the office to its fullest potential,” she said. “Secondly, I applaud him for taking much time in prayer to listen to God. That makes me feel better about the situation.”
    Fellow church member Danny Jackson added: “I’m saddened by the pope’s resignation because he has done a lot of good around the world. He has built the spiritual life of the church back. After Pope John Paul (II), Pope Benedict brought us a fresh new perspective, and we’ll miss that. He was an extraordinarily bright and wise man, having written a hundred books or more.”
    Jackson said he hopes the next pope “will have the wisdom of Pope Benedict and the charisma of Pope John Paul.”
    Bob Jackson added that he hopes the next pope will “just be a holy man.”
    The priest sex abuse scandals coupled with the second change in leadership in a less than a decade lead some observers to say this is a time of great turmoil and fragility for the Catholic Church.
    Father Brannen acknowledged that the church has work to do and areas upon which it can improve, but he expressed faith that it will continue to move forward.
    “There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, present in every country,” he said. “There will always be issues to deal with and clear instruction on the teaching of Jesus will always be needed. The present century, with the amazing advances in communications technology, permits the rapid dissemination of ideas, both good and bad, and ideas have consequences. The church will always have her troubles, but she will also always survive because Jesus Christ is her head.”
    Helen Almeter, the director of religious education at St. Matthew’s, agreed.
    “First, I was shocked at the pope’s resignation, and then it was bittersweet news — the fact he is stepping down is the bitter,” she said. “It is also an exciting time of change as the church moves forward — and that’s the sweet. We trust that the Holy Spirit has a plan for the church and will lead us forward in faith.”
     “The Holy Spirit has a plan,” Brannen said, “and he is going to send us the right person to be the next pope. We certainly have to pray and trust God and continue the work of the church. God loves his family and will take care of us.”

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