Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday morning that he will resign, effective Feb. 28, according to the Associated Press.
CNN reported that a spokesman for the pope did not give a reason for the decision, announced during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, but according to the AP, the 85-year-old pontiff cited his "advanced age and diminishing strength."
The decision makes Benedict the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, according to the AP report.
Monsignor George Thompson of Saint Patrick's Church in Bedford said his reaction was one of surprise, as it would be for "anything that happens" once in several centuries.
"I'm sure he's prayed a lot about it, and I'm sure he's convinced he's doing what's best for the church," Thompson said, adding that he could not imagine a "more difficult or strenuous" job because of accessibility and travel responsibilities.
Born Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI was chosen in 2005 to succeed the late Pope John Paul II. His decision to step down could create a new tradition, according to Thompson.
"This could sort of set a precedent for future popes, that they wouldn’t feel they had to stay in office until they drew their last breath," he said.
The Vatican could hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, according to the AP. If that's the case, there will be many requests for prayers from folks all over the world—including Bedford, Thompson told Patch.
It's likely that he and other clergy members at St. Pat's will note the news in upcoming bulletins, and that students at Saint Patrick's School will discuss the changes in the classroom.
Thompson is confident that local worshippers will follow the selection process for the new pope closely.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement this morning.
"The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with His God in all he did," Dolan stated. "His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church. We are sad that he will be resigning but grateful for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St. Peter."
Monsignor John Ferry, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scarsdale and the Regional Vicar of Central Westchester, said he "was personally surprised" when he heard the announcement this morning on the radio.
"I think he left his mark on the church," Ferry told Patch. "He is a very brilliant man. He's written a lot of books on (the life of) Jesus" and issued a lot of important statements.
"It was a courageous decision on his part" to realize he was diminished by age and to decide to leave the papacy, the monsignor said.
"I give him a lot of credit for making this difficult decision," Ferry said.
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