CHICAGO (CBS) — Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down has surprised many Catholics around the world, including church leadership in Chicago.
Chicago Archdiocese representatives told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine they were not given any advance warning of the pope’s resignation, even though Cardinal Francis George was in the Vatican for meetings last week.
The archdiocese was not informed of the pope’s plan to resign until early Monday, when it was publicly announced.
In a written statement, Cardinal Francis George said, “Pope Benedict XVI has, in all circumstances, placed the will of God for the good of the Church before every other consideration. That same resoluteness of purpose speaks in his statement announcing his resignation from the Chair of Peter.
“He has taught with clarity and charity what God has revealed to the world in Christ; he has handed on the apostolic faith; he has loved all of God’s people with all his heart. He has now shown great courage in deciding, after prayer and soul-searching, to resign his office at the end of this month.
“With the gratitude of sons and daughters in our hearts, we ask the Lord to bless him and give him strength, as we begin to pray now for the one who will succeed him as Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ.”
George will be able to vote in the conclave to select the next pope. Cardinals are required to submit their resignation when they turn 75, which George did last year, but they’re able to vote for pope until they turn 80, and it’s up to the pope to determine when they must actually step down.
Benedict announced his resignation in Latin, in a pre-recorded video released Monday morning. He stressed the decision was made for health reasons. He becomes the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign.
WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya spoke to parishioners at Holy Name Cathedral early Monday about the pope’s decision to resign at the end of the month.
“If that’s what he’s going to do, that’s what he’s going to do. That’s astounding,” said one man.
Astounding and shocked were two of the most used words among those attending morning mass at Holy Name on Monday.
“Great surprise, tremendous surprise, and feeling the need for prayer, because there’s a void,” Diana Gokce said.
She said it took courage for the pope to decide to step down.
“I think that it was rather a brave thing to do, insomuch as it hasn’t been done in 600 years, and to admit to human frailty,” she said.
Martha Sabol said it was probably the best thing for the pope to do.
“If he feels that this is the best way for him to proceed in his life, and that he can no longer proceed with his responsibilities as pope, then I think that he’s made the right decision for him, and I wish him well,” she said.
One woman was saying the rosary in her car before she learned of the pope’s decision.
“There must be a reason from God that came to him, that’s why he has to go,” she said.
Benedict emphasized that carrying out the duties of being pope — the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide — requires “both strength of mind and body.”
“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 told the cardinals. “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.
“However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a move to end the Great Western Schism created by two competing papal claims.
When Benedict was elected pope in 2005, he was the oldest pope chosen in nearly 300 years, at age 78.