Local clergy reacts to pope's resignation

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Clouds and tree branches are seen over St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Tuesday, Feb.12, 2013. With a few words in Latin, Pope Benedict XVI did what no pope has done in more than half a millennium, stunning the world by announcing his resignation Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, and leaving the already troubled Catholic Church to replace the leader of its 1 billion followers by Easter. (AP Photo/Angelo Carconi)

Pope Benedict XVI's resignation came as a surprise to many worldwide, but local Catholic clergy view his decision in a favorable light.

"I think it's a good move on his part," said the Rev. Tom Kiefer, pastor of St. Mary's Cathedral in Cape Girardeau. "Like Pope Benedict, I'm German and there's a certain practicality among us. The stamina needed to fulfill his duties as pope isn't where it needs to be, and I'm sure that was a factor in deciding to step aside."

The Rev. John Harth, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jackson, views the decision to resign as giving insight into the man himself.

"The physical demands of being pope are enormous," Harth said. "It's a credit to Pope Benedict that he recognized he wasn't able to continue in his position."

The pontiff, who is 85, has reduced his travel schedule considerably, as well as time he spends in the Vatican with visiting bishops. He has been seen using a cane and increasingly has relied upon a movable platform to get him to the altar at St. Peter's Basilica in lieu of walking down the aisle.

Benedict's tenure has not been diminished in the eyes of his followers by his physical shortcomings.

"I think he's done a fantastic job," said the Rev. Patrick Nwokoye, director and chaplain of the Newman Center at Southeast Missouri State University. "Pope Benedict is one of the most eminent theologians the church has ever seen."

Nwokoye, who was educated in Rome at a school run by the Vatican, added, "He is remarkable and has led with grace and humility."

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his message at the end of a meeting of Vatican cardinals, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Benedict XVI announced Monday that 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/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger assumed the papacy -- and chose the name Benedict XVI -- in 2005 after the death of John Paul II, who had served as pope for nearly 27 years. According to Kiefer, following such a man might have been viewed as a daunting task, but Benedict has had to deal with issues that his predecessor did not.

"Gay marriage and religious liberty came to the forefront during Pope Benedict's tenure," he said. "John Paul II didn't have to face those challenges the way Pope Benedict has done."

Benedict also has been criticized for having a strict conservative philosophy when it comes to the teachings of the church, but Harth doesn't see it that way.

"I've found him to be more open and pastoral than I expected," he said. "He seemed to be more rigid before he became the pope."

Nwokoye also does not take issue with Pope Benedict's leadership style.

"We have to understand that the church isn't about opinion polls," he said. "The message of Jesus Christ never changes. The pope has to preserve the teachings of Christ through the church, and Pope Benedict has done that well."

Benedict's resignation will become official Feb. 28, and it is hoped a new pope will be installed by Easter Sunday. Kiefer said it was impossible to know who would become Benedict's replacement, but he has faith in the selection process.

"We're a universal church, and I put my trust in the cardinals who will be overseeing the election of the new pope. They know more about the needs of the church than I do. I have faith that the Holy Spirit will guide them to a good man."



Pertinent address:

615 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

512 N. Pacific St., Cape Girardeau, MO

208 S. Hope St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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