What does Pope Benedict XVI's resignation mean for local Catholics?

Posted at: 02/11/2013 6:19 PM
Updated at: 02/11/2013 9:07 PM
By: Ray Levato

A shocking announcement from the Vatican is having a heavy impact in the Rochester area. Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down. He says he can no longer serve as pontiff due to his failing health.

Not only did this take many Catholics by surprise, but it also made history, because the last time a pope resigned was 600 years ago. The 85-year-old became pope in 2005 following the death of Pope John Paul II.

News10NBC spoke with Robert Capellazzi, of Gates, who visited the Vatican last May and saw Pope Benedict. He said he appeared to be weak back then as well.

Robert Capellazzi said, “He didn't look good. I even said to my wife after we left that he really doesn't look good and then I heard that he wasn't feeling well when we were there so. But he still was out there and that's what was amazing.”

There are a lot of questions surrounding the pontiff's announcement including who will be his successor. And even more for Rochester area Catholics, what does this mean for the search to find our next bishop?

This was big news for the world's one billion Catholics and also here in the 12-county Rochester with 350,000 faithful, who are awaiting the naming of a new bishop.  

Most Reverend Matthew Clark, Bishop Emeritus of Rochester, said, “This was a great surprise to me. We do not, believe me, get advance notice  of such things.”

Bishop Clark reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 last July. He's now officially called Bishop Emeritus. Bishop Clark says the events in Rome could speed up picking his successor if Pope Benedict wants to pass a clean slate to his successor or it could slow the process down.

Clark said, “From the time of his resignation on February 28 and the installation of a new pope, my guess would be we wouldn't expect much movement in there at all. So my guess is, bottom line, if it does anything, it would probably lengthen the time. But that's pure speculation.”

Tim Thibabeau is a professor of history at Nazareth College and also a church historian who has published extensively on the history, theology and liturgy of the church in the middle ages.  News10NBC asked has Pope Benedict set a precedent by this decision?

Thibabeau, professor of history, Nazareth College, said, “I think this could be a precedent in the sense. His legacy is his resignation. Add if you're managing a church that cuts across many continents with a billion Catholics, it's a very challenging position even for a young man to take that responsibility. So absolutely, I think this is a bold step on his part which is an exclamation mark at the end of his papacy.”

News10N BC spoke with parishioners who attended the noontime mass at  St. Mary's Church downtown about the  developments..

Terry O'Donnell said, “It was a shock. I was surprised. I heard it's been over 600 years since a pope resigned. I'm just praying the next one is pretty good.”

Joe Carney said, “I think it's wonderful. I think the pope has recognized his fragility. I assume he's listening to the voice of God and this is what he thinks he should do for the benefit of the people, the benefit of the church.”

What's ahead for the church? Bishop Clark expects a new pope to be chosen soon.  He also says the church several decades ago adopted a provision to allow for just such a decision by a pope to step down. And on his own successor, Bishop Clark says his replacement will be announced simultaneously in Rome and Rochester.