Bishop Timothy McDonnell understands pope’s decision
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Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of the Diocese of Springfield, seen here in 2007, said Monday he understands why Pope Benedict XVI has decided to resign. Purchase photo reprints »
FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008, file photo, Pope Benedict XVI holds the pastoral staff as he celebrates Christmas midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Declaring that he lacks the strength to do his job, Benedict announced Monday Feb. 11, 2013, he will resign Feb. 28 _ becoming the first pontiff to step down in 600 years. His decision sets the stage for a mid-March conclave to elect a new leader for a Roman Catholic Church in deep turmoil. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File) Purchase photo reprints »
SPRINGFIELD — Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of the Diocese of Springfield, who will retire this year, said he understands why Pope Benedict XVI believes it is time for him to step aside as the leader of 1 billion Catholics.
“He has a clarity of teaching that is very dramatic, and with that clarity, and with that precision, he realizes his own abilities are no longer what they once were,” McDonnell said Monday in a press conference called to discuss the pontiff’s decision.
“I can understand that the pope would feel the need for energy, strength and the ability to carry on all the work that he has. I know myself that I don’t have the acuity, the sharpness I once had, that I don’t have the energy I once had, and I’m 10 years younger than he is,” said McDonnell. “So I can understand very much why he would do this.”
McDonnell submitted his own resignation Dec. 23, as is required by the Vatican when any bishop reaches the age of 75. He expects to leave before the year is out.
For the first time in nearly six centuries, a sitting pope has decided to resign as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Benedict XVI, 85, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before being elected to the papacy April 19, 2005, said in a statement Monday that after “repeatedly examining his conscience with God,” he would step down at the end of the month.
The pope has said a pontiff should resign if his health prevents him from executing the duties of his office — and that he would do so himself if he felt that he had become incapacitated.
Monday, McDonnell read Benedict’s statement aloud in its entirety and shared his thoughts on the situation, referring to the pope as a precise thinker and clear teacher.
“The Holy Father has always been someone who has thought things through, and when he reaches a conclusion, has put it in words so that people might understand,” he said. “He’s always been one to help us understand more fully the depths of the faith.”
The last time an incumbent pope resigned was in 1415, when Pope Gregory XII stepped down to end a civil war within the Catholic Church known as the “Western Schism.”
According to McDonnell, Benedict XVI will first retire to his summer home, Castel Gandalfo, outside Rome, so as not be in the city when the new pope is being elected, and will then serve as chaplain to a monastery of cloistered nuns.
As far as speculation over who the next pope might be, McDonnell offered no names, only an old Roman proverb: “Whoever goes in pope, comes out cardinal. What that means is that, simply, the speculation often surprises us,” he said.
He does not expect an American pope due to the tendency of the church to avoid selecting popes from among superpower nations. McDonnell said he believes an African pope — which many have called for — is a possibility.
“He asks our prayers and we offer them wholeheartedly, for him and for the church that God will give him the strength he needs as he faces the weaknesses that have come upon him,” McDonnell said.
The excitement is widespread. “We’re all just praying for the next one. We hope to have him by Easter,” said Nancy Strycharz of Southampton, who attends Our Lady of the Valley Church in Easthampton. “He brought all the gifts that he had,” she said of Benedict.
Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley praised Benedict for his “courage and his leadership” and recalled he was present in Washington in 2008 when Benedict met with several Boston-area victims of the sex abuse crisis. O’Malley said the pope had a clearly evident “determination to heal the wounds of all persons impacted by the abuse crisis and to ensure that the church continues to do all that is possible to provide for the protection of children.”
The lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful also praised Benedict’s increased commitment to addressing the scandal. But it said the church still faces numerous problems, including “ultimately, a failure to hold accountable all bishops who were complicit in covering up clergy sexual abuse.”
The group urged the next pope to decrease secrecy and give the laity a greater voice in how the church is run.
Nicholas Cafardi, a board member of the Boston-based group Catholic Democrats, said it’s premature to assess Benedict’s legacy, but his commitment to social justice can’t be ignored.
“At a point in time where so many were ignoring the voices of the poor, Pope Benedict heard them and provided tremendous leadership in ensuring that those in power paid attention to the most vulnerable among us,” he said.
Bishop Robert Deeley, the vicar general of the Boston Archdiocese, worked directly with the pope in Rome before taking his assignment in Boston.
“I know of his deep and abiding love for the church and for fulfilling the saving ministry of Jesus,” Deeley said.
Ray Flynn, the former Boston mayor and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said he wasn’t surprised the pope decided to make way for a more energized and effective leader. Benedict has had a number of ailments consistent with his age.
“He always said that he would serve the church he loves as long as God gave him the strength and health. Today he kept his promise,” Flynn said.