On February 11, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would be resigning from the Papacy on February 28. The 85-year-old pontiff is in failing health but the last time a pope abdicated was 600 years ago.
The news left the world's 1.18 billion Roman Catholics in a state of shock. Monsignor Thomas R. Bride, pastor of Christ The King Church in Old Lyme was one of them.
"It’s a complete surprise," said Bride. "We do not know whether he is ill or if he’s just worn out. It appears at this moment that it is just too much for him to continue. This is a real shock. We’re not used to this. If the Pope is alive, we have a Pope. Since it’s the first time in 600 years [that a pope resigned], it’s an unchartered course."
Shy and scholarly by nature, Pope Benedict may not have had the vivaciousness of his popular predecessor Pope John Paul II, but he was widely respected for his intelligence and his deep understanding of church law, Bride said.
"They say that the largest audiences ever held in the history of the church were with Pope Benedict," said Bride. "People went to see Pope John Paul but they went to listen and to learn from Pope Benedict."
"I was in [St. Peter's] square when the pope was elected and it was very exciting," Bride said, recalling that the moment the white smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel chimney, "100,000 people just parked and ran to get there. From the very moment he was elected, you knew the mourning of Pope John Paul was over and we had a new pope."
The ritual of the Conclave and the secret ballots of the College of Cardinals will now be held again to determine who will succeed Pope Benedict XVI.
"We probably will have a much younger pope than Benedict was when he was elected. That appears to be what the thinking of the church is at the moment," said Bride. "What will be the lasting effects of this resignation remains to be seen."
Dioscese of Norwich Reacts to News of the Pope's Resignation
Most Reverend Michael R. Cote, D.D., Bishop of Norwich issued the following statement in reaction to the news.
The news of the Holy Father's decision to resign his ministry as Successor to Saint Peter and leader of the Universal Church came as a very big surprise this morning to me and, I believe, all Catholics. It has been nearly 600 years since there has been a papal resignation. This is an extraordinary moment.
It is a moment of courage and humility for this pope. He has made a choice he believes will ensure that the demands of the office will continue to be met with the vigor required in these exceptional times. We pray for Pope Benedict and for his successor. And we pray for the conclave of Cardinals who will choose our next pope. It is likely that we will have a new pope by Easter.
All parishioners, friends and followers of the faith in the Diocese of Norwich, while surprised by this historic announcement, should be impressed with the strength of a leader willing to step aside believing it will help the Church.
In this Year of Faith proclaimed by the Pontiff, we are inspired by his leadership and guidance. We will continue to follow his encouragement to rediscover the faith and the Church, and actively spread the Good News of the Gospel.
We thank you Holy Father for all you have done to proclaim the faith, to ensure its vital entry into a new century and for your courage to lead the Church.