Some local Catholics were surprised Monday by the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI saying he would resign at the end of the month.
Father Michael Cummins, chaplain at the Catholic Center at East Tennessee State University, did not expect the resignation, but said it was a teaching moment because Benedict was conveying the importance of putting the church first.
“I think that the reason that he’s given; that his health just won’t allow him to fulfill the ministry, is truly a valid reason,” Cummins said.
Cummins said he understood that Benedict always said he would resign if his health would not permit the fulfillment of his duties.
Cummins thought Benedict’s pontificate would be recorded as a good one that strengthened the church and helped it through difficult times.
He said Benedict’s work with new evangelization was beneficial as was his scholarly research on Jesus of Nazareth.
Benedict’s work behind the scenes dealing with abuse scandals have placed the church in a position to effectively deal with that issue, Cummins said.
“I think he’s led well,” Cummins said. “I’ve always been a fan of Benedict. He has always been his own man. He followed up John Paul (II), who was certainly charismatic and had certainly some very powerful gifts. But the thing I always respected about Benedict was that he never, it seemed like he never, felt he needed to be another John Paul. He was able to be himself and to lead in his own way.”
It was announced Monday that Benedict would step down Feb. 28 due to health reasons.
According to reporting from the Associated Press, Benedict wanted to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe. He grew increasingly frail, though, as he shouldered the monumental task of purging the Catholic world of a sex abuse scandal that festered under John Paul II and exploded during his reign into the church’s biggest crisis in decades, if not centuries.
More recently, he bore the painful burden of betrayal by one of his closest aides: Benedict’s own butler was convicted by a Vatican court of stealing the pontiff’s personal papers and giving them to a journalist, one of the gravest breaches of papal security in modern times, the Associated Press wrote Monday.
Marianne Oligny, a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Johnson City, said the pope’s announcement probably took many people by surprise.
She was not aware of any health problems the pope had but said she imagined the job would be very overwhelming.
Oligny said Benedict had big shoes to fill in following John Paul.
“We didn’t hear an awful lot about what was going on with him as we did with, you know, John Paul,” she said.
Murvin Perry, also a member of St. Mary’s, said he and his wife were not surprised by the pope’s announcement.
“My wife and I have watched him at papal audiences, on EWTN recently, and we’ve noticed that he appears to be increasingly frail,” he said. “We’re saddened, of course, because he has been a great leader in the church at a very troubled time.”
EWTN is the global television and radio network operated by the Catholic Church.
Perry said Benedict’s resignation would not change the direction of the church.
“The church is on a steady course,” he said. “We’ve got some problems to clean up. We’ve got some problems of acceptance here at home. But that’s nothing new. We’ve been in that circumstance for 2,000 years.”