New Castle News

February 12, 2013

Pope’s retirement shocks his flock locally

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It was not the news the Rev. Nicholas Vaskov expected to hear when he woke up Monday morning.

The announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would retire by the end of the month took virtually everyone by surprise.

He will be the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII did so in 1415.

“I was surprised but maybe I should not have been,” said Vaskov, parochial vicar of the four Roman Catholic churches of New Castle. The possible resignation/retirement is something the pontiff has considered and written about for many years, he said. “It’s safe to say he opened that door some time ago.”

At 85, the priest noted, the pope is daily subjected to more stress and responsibilities than a man half his age. With the pope’s health declining, he may see retirement as the path to follow.

“Benedict is a quiet, reserved, academic,” Vaskov said of the pope elected in April 2005.

The pope’s predecessor, John Paul II, despite ill health did not choose to retire. “He chose to continue to witness in light of his suffering, but retirement was always a possibility, as long as the resignation was done freely and not forced, just as (Benedict) said in his statement.”

The Sisters of the Humility of Mary at Villa Maria also accept the pontiff’s decision.

“We wish Pope Benedict well and respect his decision, one that took humility and wisdom, as he acknowledges his own limitations,” they said in a prepared statement.

The Rev. Frank Almade, pastor of New Castle’s four Roman Catholic churches, agreed the pontiff’s announcement shouldn’t have come as the surprise it was.

“The resignation of a pope has been talked about and written about for the past 15 years,” he said.

Speculation began when the health of Pope John Paul II declined because of Parkinson’s disease.

“In his last 10 or 12 years, as his health deteriorated, some voices recommended he step down but he chose to soldier on.”

Almade said Benedict addressed papal resignation in a book he wrote two years ago.

“But I don’t think anyone thought he had the courage to do it.

“Some would ask why would anyone leave a position of such power? But apparently he sees his service to the church differently. He will withdraw and leave it to another. Apparently he loves the church even more than we thought that he did.

“Pope Benedict is a wise man,” Almade continued. “This is not just about him. It is historic.

“By resigning (Benedict) is freeing up his successor to leave honorably when he is unable to fulfill the responsibility. This is a historically significant act.”

Almade said he has no idea who the cardinals will elect to fill Benedict’s shoes.

“There is no insider, no one who the pope has embraced to succeed him. It’s a wide open field. But it frees the cardinals to ask ‘Where is the church going and who will lead us there?’”

Almade said what he finds most amazing is that the pope surprised the world with his announcement.

“Secrets in Rome have the shelf life of about 10 minutes,” he said. “Somehow he kept his secret from leaking out.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)