Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he was resigning stunned many Chicago-area Catholics as they woke up to a new work-week on Monday morning.
Citing failing health and his age, Benedict became the first pope to resign the post in almost 600 years. The resignation, effective Feb. 28, comes during Lent, a time of penance and the liturgical season leading up to Christianity’s most important holiday, Easter.
On Monday, the pope’s decision to resign didn’t come as too much of a surprise to Rev. Lawrence Malcolm of St. Gerald Parish and School in Oak Lawn.
“We heard he was considering it. We try to stay away from the politics,” Father Malcolm said. “There is always a lot of clerical gossip and you hear different things.”
The Oak Lawn priest said he appreciated the pontiff being up front about his diminshed health.
“He says he’s not feeling well. It’s best he’s getting someone who’s feeling better,” he said. “I appreciate it.”
Father Malcolm said he spent most of Monday fielding questions from the parish school’s elementary students. The conclave to select a new pope is expected to take place in mid-March and is a new experience for the children, most of whom were infants or not even born when Benedict was chosen to succeed the late Pope John Paul II eight years ago.
WHAT TO READ NEXT: Saint Xavier students share their thoughts on pope's resignation.
“They asked if I thought it would be somebody from Africa or America,” Father Malcolm explained. “I told them I didn’t think it would be anyone from America. The bishops pick someone from a non-powerful country. They don’t want to get involved in politics or pick sides.”
What qualities would he like to see in the new pope?
“I want a man of prayer,” Father Malcolm said. “I’m just happy we’ve had a long succession of holy men.”
At the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Mt. Greenwood, retired Sr. Evangeline McSloy said her religious community was shocked by the announcement.
“We’re used to having them elected and following a certain format,” Sr. McSloy, 91, said. “I respected [Benedict] a lot.”
After the Vatican’s stinging rebuke last year criticizing American nuns for being too focused on social justice and feminism, Sr. McSloy hoped the next pope would be a holy man who was concerned about everyone in the whole world, not just Catholics.
Speaking for herself, she’d like to see women’s role in the church not only expanded, but embraced and encouraged.
“I think we’re at that time in history, don’t you,” Sr. McSloy said. “I don’t think you get anywhere by putting anyone down. We have to bring everyone up.”
Archdiocese of Chicago Issues Statement
Following Benedict’s announcement, Cardinal Francis George issued an official statement Monday morning, referring to the pope's resignation as a brave decision.
“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.”
Pope Cites Declining Health
Born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria, the 85-year-old pontiff cited his advanced age and physical condition as the reasons for his resignation.
Like Pope Gregory VII before him, who resigned in 1415, the outgoing Benedict leaves a church in crisis. His legacy is likely to be tarnished by the accusations that he helped cover up decades of priest sex abuse and other controversies surrounding his eight-year reign.
Reaction to the pope's residgnation on local social media was mixed:
"Surely this will mean the end of all child rape and coverups in the catholic church."
"As a former Catholic, I applaud the Pope for stepping down due to his health issues. He has done a wonderful job!"