The religious world was shaken on Monday with the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI—the first Pope to step down in 700 years.
Referencing his advanced age at 85, and ailing health, Benedict XVI shared his news in Latin. And thanks to an Italian reporter who knows the language, the news broke:
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the Pope said. (Read the rest here.)
Park Slope religious leaders took time with Patch to react to the Catholic leader, who was formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, leaving his duties.
Pastor Daniel Meeter, the head of Old First Reformed Church on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, followed suit with the rest of the world in being surprised.
“The big ‘C’ [the Catholic Church] and the Vatican have come under so much pressure and scrutiny, for good reason, that anyone not in a 100 percent health and confidence can’t do it,” said Pastor Meeter. “It certainly is not a fun job, it’s the kind of position with so much to answer for that anyone that is not in almost perfect health and perfect control will be a victim of his job.”
Adding to that last thought, Meeter concluded:
“The job makes a victim of its holder. The Catholic Church is so resistant to real thorough going change, you are holding onto institution. And it is an institution that is so demanding just to be maintained that the job itself must suck all the life out of you,” Meeter said.
Meeter said that the pressure from the sexual assault cases may have worn on Benedict, who was the oldest pope to be elected to the position since 1730, especially since he was unable to do anything to combat the controversy.
Meeter, who is the leader of one of the oldest congregations in Brooklyn, said that although he respects Pope Benedict, he did not look up to him as a moral center.
“I would say that no Protestant pastors that I know of had no specific regard, high or low, or inspiration in him,” Meeter said, explaining that he did look up to other popes for religious guidance like Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. “We just saw a man trying to do his job within the narrow confines of what he saw the Church to be.”
Unlike Meeter saw Pope John Paul II as a leader who helped bring progress to the Catholic Church, he saw Benedict as a “neo-Con in theology.”
“With Benedict, we saw all the movement in the Roman Catholic Church that we saw as positive shut down in a preservationist mode,” Meeter explained.
But some local Catholics looked up to Pope Benedict.
Brother Barton, the Director of Campus Ministry at Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School on 19th Street, said that the Pope did his job well.
“This is a major burden to be pope, I’m thinking especially in the developing world with so many growing pains, and Benedict did well and stood fast for the Gospel of Jesus,” Brother Barton said, who lives in Our Lady of Angels Friary in Bay Ridge.
When asked about if the sudden resignation is a sign of impending doom, Brother Barton said no.
“I have great faith in the Holy Spirit, and I don’t personally believe that anything earth shattering will happen,” Barton said.
Barton said that the Pope’s resignation was totally unexpected.
“I was surprised, but not shocked,” Brother Barton said, who leads religious pilgrimages to Rome each year and has seen Benedict multiple times. “I’ve watched from a distance, and up close, his decline in recent years. But I didn’t think he would resign. A pope stays in office until he dies.”
However, Barton didn’t think the resignation is a bad thing. Barton said that Benedict is a knowledgeable, Godly scholar who must have thought and prayed about his decision for sometime.
“We really believe that the Holy Spirit is responsible for all that knows and this is the right time for him,” Barton said. “He always knew when the right time is to move, when to accept a challenge and this is his challenge right now.”
But not everyone agreed with Barton.
Pastor Dary Williams, who is the Bishop at Mission for Today Holy Tabernacle on Sixth Avenue said that the Pope is not supposed to leave his duties until he is called to leave Earth.
“I was startled and stunned, it was almost the first time this happened in modern history,” Pastor Williams said. “This is not the way a person of this stature to act—one of the most important men in the world and you’re going to resign with less than a month’s notice?”
Pastor Williams said that his personal feeling is that it doesn’t matter if the Pope is sick. He has a job to do.
“If the end is near, that just it, he’s supposed to stay to the end,” Williams said. “That’s what popes do, popes stay until the end.”
At St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church, Pastor Thomas W. Ahern thought the Pope had to make a tough decision, but he made the correct decision.
“We’ll be praying for him here in our parish for his health and for him psychologically and emotionally. This is a hard time for him,” Ahern said, whp described the Pope’s resignation as “courageous.”
“I think it is a wise decision for his health. It’s been done before, it has happened. However, this is big, big news,” Ahern said.
But for Catholics, has the Pope’s resignation shaken one’s faith?
Brother Barton, who looked up to the Pope as a moral and Godly scholar, said no.
“This hasn’t shaken my faith. What makes my faith stronger is the fact that there is a continuum: in six weeks there will be a new Pope. He believed that it was the gift of the Holy Spirit,” Barton said. “He said that you need to have a nimble mind and nimble body. Certainly his mind is sharp and perceptive as a scholar, but his body has given out. We expect transition.”