AUGUSTA — Local Catholic leaders were surprised Monday to hear that Pope Benedict XVI would be resigning at the end of the month.

But local leaders said it seemed like a reasonable decision considering the pope’s health.

Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratziner, announced the news Monday during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, the Associated Press reported. In his statement to the cardinals, Benedict said his deteriorating health and strength has left him unable to perform his duties.

It’s the first time in 600 years a pope has stepped down from the top position in the Roman Catholic Church, according to the Associated Press.

Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of St. Michael Parish in Augusta, said the pope was likely thinking that it would be better to step down now instead waiting until he was incapacitated.

“It’s kind of a realistic approach on his part, I think,” Morin said. Still, he said, “it was surprising to hear on the radio this morning.”

Rev. George Hickey, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Hallowell, said he respects Benedict for the decision and hopes the next pope will lead the church to be more open and do more outreach.
“The Lord says God shows no partiality, and I’d like to see that for our church, as a motto. That we show no partiality, that we welcome all people,” Hickey said.

He said he thinks the church has done this, but some people still feel left out.

Rev. Ralph Boisvert, a retired pastor of St. Michael Parish, said the announcement surprised him because there wasn’t any warning or hint that the pope would retire.

He said parishoners were talking about the news at the 7:30 a.m. Monday Mass held at St. Monica’s Chapel in Augusta.

“I see it as definitely a positive thing because he was able to acknowledge he wasn’t feeling well. He was feeling tired and wasn’t able to keep up like he wanted to,” Boisvert said.

The College of Cardinals will hold a conclave in Vatican City by the end of March to select a new pope.

“Right now there’s no clear person,” he said of the next pope.

Boisvert said that the process will be spirit-driven, and people should “trust that God has a plan.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
pkoenig@mainetoday.com