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Pope’s resignation catches boro off guard

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in St. Peter's Basilica on the occasion of the celebration of Ash Wednesday mass at the Vatican Wednesday. AP Photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Pool
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The unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI did more than surprise members of the Catholic community and the world. It also broke a more than 600-year-old tradition, setting the stage for what Bayside’s Dennis Farrell said will undoubtedly spark interest in the church’s future moving forward.

“There is going to be so much to watch for in regards to all of this,” said Farrell, principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School. “This may be a one-time only event in our history, so it will be very interesting to see how it plays out.”

Farrell said he, like so many others across the borough, city and world, were caught completely off guard by the pope’s announcement Monday that he had decided to step down by the end of the month. Typically, a pope would remain in office until death, raising questions over how the church would then handle Benedict’s death in the future.

It was the first time a pope has voluntarily left the position in six centuries, since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, but was necessary because of a growing fatigue in Benedict’s demeanor, he said.

“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,” Benedict said as he delivered his statement in Latin earlier this week, effective Feb. 28. “In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Benedict, the 85-year-old German native also known as Joseph Ratzinger, was elected to lead the Vatican in 2005 after the death of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Ferrell said he wondered whether or not the church would choose a conservative-leaning successor for Benedict. Bookees keeping tabs on the odds, however, have weighed in heavily on Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria as some of the heavy favorites.

The name of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, has been floated since Benedict’s announcement, though he has been widely considered a long shot for the spot.

Benedict’s decision to resign may have the potential to set a new precedent, according to Monsignor John Mahoney, of Our Lady of Fatima Church in East Elmhurst.

“It certainly no longer makes it unthinkable that a pope would resign, even though it was always allowed,” Mahoney said. “But we are hopeful. Our hope is in the guidance of the Holy Spirit at this very historic time.”

Mahoney said Benedict showed the world — and future popes — that the option to step down is and always was there.

“I think with great courage and with great humility, he has made his decision,” Mahoney said. “There is much to be admired in the fact that he is saying he can no longer do this at the level that is necessary.”

Mahoney’s sentiments matched those of Farrell’s, who saw the decision as bold, but not completely inappropriate.

“Good for him to realize that he may not have the energy he feels is needed to lead the church into the future,” Farrell said. “In the future, it will be his interactions with the people, his writings and teachings that will impact the world.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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