Local Catholics express shock to Pope Benedict XVI resignation

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — The Rev. David O’Connor celebrates the Holy Eucharist at the service. On the same day, Pope Benedict XVI, at top, announced that he will resign from the papacy on Feb. 28. At right, Sonny Vance holds the cross Monday morning before a Mass in the observance of World Day of the Sick at St. Mary Basilica.

NATCHEZ — Monday’s news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI — the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years — shocked the world, including some local Catholics.

But the Rev. David O’Connor at St. Mary Basilica said he was happy to learn the news.

“It did take me by surprise,” he said. “But I am also very happy. The man has been an ordained minister probably 60 years, and after 60 years, while he is still able to make decisions and still able to get around, if he wants to be more involved in prayer, then that’s where he should be.”

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What is more, O’Connor said, is that the pope’s resignation sets a precedent for future popes.

“No pope in 600 years has resigned, but I have no doubt that some of them would have wanted to get out, but didn’t want to break the mold,” he said.

O’Connor said he believes it would be better for a pope to resign if he is unable to serve to his fullest potential rather than remain serving.

O’Connor said he was also glad the pope did not draw out the process of his resignation.

“He did not say, ���I’m going to retire in three months or six months,’” O’Connor said. “He just said two weeks, so they can begin organizing the new election of a pope.”

The new pope will be elected by the College of Cardinals, which is comprised of 120 cardinals. A conclave will be called, and the cardinals will vote up to four times a day until a new cardinal is elected.

O’Connor said he is sure there will be much speculation in the coming weeks about the pope’s successor. O’Connor said he personally thinks it would be interesting if the next pope was a slightly younger man than the current pope was when he was elected and of a more pastoral background.

Pope Benedict XVI was a church bureaucrat and worked very closely with the Pope John Paul II prior to being elected.

“Benedict was the right selection,” O’Connor said. “He has become a great chief shepherd for the church.”

Kay Nunn, 87, who attended Monday’s World Day of the Sick Mass at St. Mary Basilica said she was stunned to hear the pope would be resigning.

“I’m also very disappointed because I thought he was a very good pope.”

The 85-year-old pope announced his resignation during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators, even though Benedict had made clear in the past he would step down if he became too old or ill to do the job.

Nunn’s daughter, Patricia, 63, said she was also surprised but felt that the pope made the best decision if he feels he is no longer able to serve.

“I think if he feels he’s not up to making the tough decisions and the rigor of being the pope…I think he recognizes that perhaps someone else should take that position,” she said.

Sonny Vance, 79, said he was not particularly disappointed by the pope’s resignation, but he said he did not see it coming.

“I knew he looked quite frail, but John Paul II was also very frail and never resigned,” Vance said.

Pope John Paul II served as the pontiff from 1978 until his death in 2005. Pope Benedict XVI was elected pope following John Paul II’s death.

Blake Wadsworth, 85, who has been Catholic for 22 years, said he was not even aware a pope could resign.

“I had no idea,” he said. “But I am sure we will find another (pope) who will do just as good of a job.”