By Ashley Graves
The Cullman Times
As word broke of Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement to resign at the end of the month, much of the Catholic community was left stunned Monday by the news, including those in Cullman.
“I’m absolutely surprised,” said Father Patrick Egan of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. “Usually the norm for them is to stay in until they died.”
Benedict, 85, is the first pontiff to step down in nearly 600 years. The last pope to do so was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants.
The Vatican stressed that no specific medical condition prompted Benedict’s decision. Still, Benedict said his advanced age means he no longer has the necessary physical strength to lead the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics. When he became pope in 2005 at the age of 74, replacing John Paul, he was already the oldest pontiff elected in nearly 300 years.
Egan doesn’t see Benedict’s resignation setting a precedent for future popes.
“I think this was very individual,” Egan said. “From now on, I think it will just be how each one feels. I don’t see it setting a precedent.”
The move now allows the Vatican to hold a conclave before Easter to elect a new pope, since the traditional nine days of mourning that would follow the death of a pope doesn’t have to be observed. It will also allow Benedict to hold great sway over the choice of his successor, though he will not vote. He has already hand-picked the bulk of the College of Cardinals — the princes of the church who will elect the next pope — to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future for the church. Whoever it may be, Egan feels will be the right choice.
“He (Benedict) has been a great pope,” Egan said. “I feel whoever is next will be the one the Holy Spirit will send us.”
Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican’s office for bishops.
Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope’s conservative line, being from a world power will probably not count in his favor. That might also rule out Cardinal Raymond Burke, an archconservative and the Vatican’s top judge, even if he is known and respected by most Vatican cardinals. Burke used to be archbishop of St. Louis.
*The Associated Press contributed to this article
*Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org