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Bishop Leonard Blair of the Diocese of Toledo was having breakfast when he learned, via the Internet, that Pope Benedict XVI planned to resign.
“It is not something you expect to see in your morning news,” he said Monday morning at a news conference. The bishop last saw the Pontiff in person a year ago, he said, when he visited Rome with other bishops from Ohio and Michigan.
Bishop Blair said in an official statement that the Pope is “a great pastor and a great teacher of the faith.” And he added that “we do not begrudge him the repose he seeks for whatever time remains to him in this life. His resignation is itself a lesson in humility, courage, and faith.”
Others across the Toledo area also commended Benedict’s grace for making the decision.
“I’m impressed with the resignation,” said Peter Feldmeier, the Margaret and Thomas Murray and James J. Bacik Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo. “I think it shows a lot of freedom in Benedict’s soul and a lot of desire to support the life of the church.”
Sister Sandy Sherman of the Ursuline Sisters of Toledo said, “I think it was a wonderful model that he could give to elders of letting go when it’s time to let go. I’m a gerontologist,” she said. “I think it’s a positive thing that [Benedict] knows it’s time."
Reflecting on the impact of Pope Benedict XVI, the Rev. James J. Bacik, who served as pastor of Corpus Christi University Parish in Toledo and is a visiting faculty member at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, said, “I think a positive thing that the people would see the Pope having done is visiting the United States, where he was seen as very open in talking to victims of sex abuse, showing compassion for their suffering. At the same time, he did too much defending of his predecessor on that issue and didn’t really bring to light the problems of Pope John Paul II.”
Father Bacik also said some people “would be unhappy with part of [the Pope’s] ‘reform of the reform,’ ” or going “behind the thrust of the [Vatican] Council." Some of the Pope’s moves were a “turning back of the Church,” he said.
Asked what he would like to see in the next pope, Father Bacik said, “Largely, I would go back to Pope John XXIII as the great model of what we need. Pope John had the ability to bring people together to overcome divisions, to speak about Christianity that drew others into the great conversation of what the Jesus movement would be.”
The Rev. Beverly Bingle, who was ordained a priest by Roman Catholic Womenpriests over the weekend, an ordination that is not recognized by the Vatican, said of Benedict, “I pray for his health. I also pray that we get a new pope in the spirit of John XXIII. It’s my hope that [the next pope] will renew the Church and keep going.”
When asked whether the election of a new pope could spur more Vatican II-type reform, Bishop Blair said that Pope John XXIII launched the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago “to preserve whole and intact the ancient teaching and doctrine of the Church, but to propose it in a fresh new way to engage people and to be renewed in, kind of, evangelical fervor and living the faith. So every pope’s going to try to do that.”
The Rev. Peter Zafe of St. Clement Parish in Toledo, director of the Philippine-American Catholic Council, is planning to go to Rome in two years to celebrate his 50th year as a priest. He said, “Now I’ll have to meet a new pope.”
More seriously, Father Zafe said that under a new pope, “the transcendent truth essential to our Catholic faith should be reaffirmed, and at the same time be open to changes, adaptations with the times, opening the window to new ideas without changing the truth proclaimed by our Lord Jesus in the first century.”
Patricia Todak is executive director of Heartbeat of Toledo. “We’re a life-affirming organization” that is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, Mrs. Todak said. “We hope that whoever the pope is will be as pro-life as the previous pope has been.”
Toledo’s Roman Catholic community “has very strong conservative voices and conservative figures,” Father Bacik said, “and it has strong progressive voices as well. It seems to me we would like a pope who would lead us to reconciliation, overcome the polarization of our churches, and we would continue to foster the great emergence of the laity in the Church.”
Mr. Feldmeier said the choice of a new pope “probably doesn’t affect Catholics in Toledo very much. It’s possible that Bishop Blair would be called to take on another diocese, presumably a larger diocese. If that is a wise thing to do, it would happen regardless of who is pope.”
Asked if there will be greater demand by the faithful for items related to Pope Benedict XVI, Sheila Churchill of Churchill’s Religious Goods and Gifts said, “John Paul II and his medals are still more popular than Pope Benedict’s.” But the store keeps Pope Benedict’s books in stock.
Sharing her thoughts about the Pontiff’s decision, she said, “I think if he feels he’s not up to the task, I give him a lot of credit for deciding to resign.”
Contact TK Barger at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6278.