Local Catholics said Monday that while they were surprised to learn Pope Benedict XVI had decided to resign from the papacy, they see his choice as a brave and unselfish move motivated by his commitment to his faith.
“Everyone is picking their jaws off the floor because no one was expecting this,” said the Rev. David Mickiewicz, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Oneonta.
“He is teaching all of us that we have limitations, and sometimes the best thing to do is pass on the torch,” the pastor added. “I think it is going to set a precedent for future pontiffs. I give Benedict a lot of credit for having the self-consciousness to look at himself and see how he has deteriorated, and to do what was best for the good of the church.”
He said the announcement by the 85-year-old Pope that he is retiring effective Feb. 28 because of deteriorating health may prompt discussion within the Roman Catholic Church to set a mandatory retirement age for the top clergyman.
The Church, he noted, requires bishops to retire upon reaching age 75.
“There is an aura around the Bishop of Rome because he is also the Pope that is not around any other Catholic bishop or any other bishop, Orthodox or Anglican,” Mickiewicz said. “Maybe some of that aura needs to be taken away. He is still a human being. He is still a bishop, and even though he is first among bishops, health and age take their toll.”
He said Pope Benedict will most likely be remembered for being the first Pope in some 600 years to resign from the high office. But he added that his legacy will also include his three papal encyclicals dealing with faith, hope and charity.
The pastor said it is not unlikely that the next pontiff will come from either South America or Africa, since it is in the Southern Hemisphere where the Catholic Church is experiencing its biggest growth.