Shock, sadness, anticipation: SC Catholics react to Pope’s resignation

cclick@thestate.comFebruary 12, 2013 

Vatican Pope Resigns

FILE - This April 19, 2005 file photo shows Pope Benedict XVI greeting the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica moments after being elected, at the Vatican. On Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 Benedict XVI announced he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis/FILE)


  • South Carolina Roman Catholics: By the numbers Total number of S.C. Catholics: 196,658 (4.2 percent of S.C. population) Diocesan priests active in diocese: 63 Total number of parishes and missions: 116 Total number of Catholic school students: 7,062 Source: Diocese of Charleston Video: Vatican reacts to pope's resignation Video: World's leaders express respect for retiring pontiff

South Carolina’s Roman Catholics reacted Monday to the startling news of Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement in much the same way Catholics around the world responded to the announcement — with shock, sadness and, in some cases, anticipation of a new leader.

“I thought he was really inspirational and it is sad to see him go,” said Donnie Iorio, a USC sophomore from Fort Mill who followed his usual morning routine of opening Google News, only to find the pope’s resignation at the top of the news thread.

“It is really upsetting to see him go but good to see that he understands what is good for the church,” said Iorio, 20. “I do believe the Holy Spirit is guiding him.”

Benedict made the announcement at the Vatican, telling a small group of cardinals, that “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 leadership.

In making the decision, the 85-year-old pope became the first pontiff in six centuries to resign rather than die in office. In the statement, made in Latin and quickly translated into seven languages, Pope Benedict said his increasingly frail health led him to believe he must step down and allow someone else to lead the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics.

In today’s complex world, he said, “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 told the gathering.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, leader of South Carolina’s nearly 197,000 Roman Catholics, said in a statement he saw the Pope’s resignation as an “act of love.”

Guglielmone, who was appointed by Pope Benedict in 2009 to lead the Diocese of Charleston, recalled meeting the pontiff last May to discuss the life of the church and the use of social media in reaching out to the faithful and the unchurched.

“During the meeting, Pope Benedict seemed physically tired; he wore the expression of an 85-year-old man dealing with his age,” Guglielmone said. “However, he was emotionally animated especially when the conversation shifted to the use of technology.”

Msgr. Richard Harris, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Devine Street, said he believes “it takes a wise and selfless man to admit one’s limitations.”

“I admire his unquestionable love of God and the church, and his acknowledgment of the importance of the papacy by the fact that he realized the demands to effectively shepherd the flock entrusted to his care requires and deserves someone with more physical stamina than he now has at this point in his life,” Harris, the diocese’s vicar general, said in a statement.

The resignation of the German pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, becomes effective Feb. 28 and clears the way for election of a new pope and, perhaps, a new era in the church.

Pope Benedict, an austere academic, was seen by many as a contentious figure, even more so because he succeeded the charismatic Pope John Paul II.

He endured criticism for his handling of the priest sex abuse scandal, which has enveloped the church for decades. Victim advocates suggested the pope had still not done enough institutionally to address the clergy pedophiles, although he was the first pope to apologize for the scandal and to meet with victims.

He also was chastised by more liberal Catholics, including disaffected American Catholics, for taking the church in a hard line conservative direction, becoming even more doctrinaire than his predecessor.

But Jamie Hall, who has two children at Cardinal Newman School and one at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, said she believes Pope Benedict has fulfilled his role as a keeper of the faith.

“As a Catholic and as a conservative Catholic, I feel that it is the pope’s responsibility through the power of the Holy Spirit to always maintain the ideal in life, and I thought he did a good job of that,” Hall said. “He did a fine job of preaching the truth; unfortunately, in our modern secular society, they (critics) don’t want to hear the truth, they want the church to adapt to them.”

Hall remembers the feeling of awe she and her family experienced last summer when they toured the Vatican and were privileged to be part of an audience with the pope. There were 7,000 people present but even her children sensed the power of the pope.

“When he walked into the room, even my kids were like ‘whoa,’” she said. “It’s not like a rock star but you are aware that he does have a holy spirit, that he does have an aura about him.”

Iorio, a member of USC’s Roman Catholic student organization, the Newman Club, said he gives the pope credit for being mindful of the importance of young people in the church.

The pope made a point of attending the church’s triennial worldwide youth gatherings and promoting the YouCat, the youth catechism that makes the ancient Christian faith more accessible to younger generations.

On the YouCat website, under Humor of Today, one poster wrote, with a mixture of seriousness and wit: “If Pope Benedict gave up the papacy for Lent, what are you giving up?”

Harris, the St. Joseph’s priest, noted that the pope’s resignation came two days before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40-day season of Lent, a time of repentance and reflection for Christians, and on World Day of Prayer for the Sick.

“Pope Benedict, recognizing his declining physical condition, may inspire the healthy among us to thank God for the gift of our good health and encourage us to daily lift our prayers for those who are suffering any type of infirmity,” Harris said.

Video: Reaction at the Vatican

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