Father Finbarr Stanton, pastor of St. Teresa’s Catholic Church, called Pope Benedict XVI’s announced resignation a good thing for the congregation, comparing the departure with a U.S. president staying past his capacity to safely serve.
ALBANY, Ga. -- When Pope Benedict XVI on Monday announced his Feb. 28 retirement citing health concerns, nearly of the world's Catholics were surprised and a large number of them were upset and even felt betrayed. After all, the last pontiff to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415, nearly 600 years ago.
"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 told the cardinals at the Vatican.
"Some of the faithful find it hard to grasp," said Father Finbarr Stanton, pastor at Albany's St. Teresa's Catholic Church, "because you can't grasp something so unique. It's almost never occurred before. Popes are supposed to die a martyr's death or as the victim of a plague. You're not supposed to, as John Paul says, come down from the cross.
"Actually, he's (Benedict) done a very self-sacrificing thing. He's generous and willing to do it for the general good."
Stanton compared Benedict's planned departure with an "over-the-hill" president, specifically Ronald Reagan, who was 78 in his final year in the Oval Office.
"Half the time he seemed to be lost," Stanton said. "You worry that he has the nuclear briefcase but can't remember how to open it."
Benedict was known by some as "God's rotweiller" and was expected to be a "tough attack dog" against anyone who strayed from the orthodox path. In contrast, Stanton considers Benedict a "humble, gentle and compassionate pastor."
"It (the papacy) just demands so much," said Stanton. "Think of getting up each morning, at age 85, with hundreds of people wanting a piece of you. He's on the plane to all those continents when what he really wants is to be fishing down in Panama City."
According to Stanton, there may have been episodes in history where popes were incapacitated for periods, either mentally or physically.
"In the 17th century, for example, there was no high-tech communication like we have today," Stanton said. "The pope could have been dead and no one would have known. Even in modern times, President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke in the White House. His wife practically ran the country and no one knew till later."
Stanton says there is no Church rule that says Popes must serve for all their lives.
"There is a provision in Church law for a pope to resign," Stanton said. "It's there. It's just never before been exercised."