The unexpected development came when the 85-year-old pontiff told the world Monday that he feels his age and health prevent him from carrying out his duties as pope.
After taking over from his predecessor Pope John Paul II in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.
The last one to do so was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
“Pope Benedict is a marvellous man and I can see how he, in his very clear and precise way, would say it’s time to let go of the reins,” said Bishop Peter Hundt of the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador.
“I can see how he would say he is not able to do the job the way he should and it’s time to let a younger man take it over.”
Pope John Paul II was a weak and feeble man who carried on in the position until he died a month before he turned 85. Hundt said both men may have responded differently to their situations by virtue of what they felt they were called to do.
“Two people can be in similar situations and God calls them to do different things,” said the bishop. “The one thing that amazed me was how, in John Paul’s frailty, a lot of people were able to identify with him in a new way and his ministry took on another dimension and another message through his frailty. I have no doubt he felt God was calling him to continue for that and other reasons.
“God could be calling Pope Benedict in a different way, in terms of telling him he doesn’t need to do (what Pope John Paul II did).”
Not overly surprised
Danny McCann of Port au Port, who is an active member of the Catholic Church, was also not overly surprised.
“He was having difficulty performing his duties and being in public,” said McCann, known for his work helping to restore the historic Our Lady of Mercy Church in Port au Port West.
“It is wonderful to think a Canadian may be in line to take over.” - Port au Port resident Danny McCann
“He had lots of support around him I’m sure. Obviously, it’s something he feels he can’t carry on in the state of health that he is in.”
McCann thinks one of the interesting legacies Pope Benedict XVI will leave is linking the papacy to the ubiquitous social media phenomenon. Last year, the pope opened a Twitter account.
“It seemed like he was trying lately to stay in touch and obviously felt that was a direction the church needed to be going in.” said McCann.
Hundt doesn’t think the world will have heard the last from Pope Benedict after his resignation takes effect on the last day of February. Before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was named pope in 2005, he had planned to retire and be a writer. During the busy schedule of his papacy, he published several documents.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all that we’re going to see more books by him in retirement,” said Hundt.
With the focus about to shift on who will become the next pope, some have placed Cardinal Marc Ouellette from Quebec City among the frontrunners.
“It is wonderful to think a Canadian may be in line to take over,” said McCann.
Ratzinger was not considered the top candidate when he was named pope. Hundt said anything could happen when it comes time for the Vatican to select its new spiritual leader.
“It’s one of those things where the Holy Spirit works and I have no idea who the Holy Spirit is going to call forth,” said the bishop.