Pope choosing to resign a surprise, residents say
Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement Monday, citing old age and failing health as his reasons for resigning, a move no one was expecting, Bishop David Fellhauer said.
Fellhauer, who is the head of the Diocese of Victoria, said he was surprised the pope is resigning, as it is a choice so rarely made in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
"I was very surprised, as I'm sure most people were," Fellhauer said. "I admire the decision he made to step aside. It's not a decision that has been made for many centuries."
He said this marks the first time a pope has resigned due to old age in more than 700 years, citing the resignation of Celestine V in 1294. Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 to reunite the church.
It has been centuries since a pope chose to step aside rather than dying in office, he said.
Pope Benedict XVI became Supreme Pontiff at a difficult time for the Roman Catholic Church, Fellhauer acknowledged, dealing with sex scandals and other challenges over the course of seven years.
"I have admired this pope greatly. His intellect is amazing. He's a man of integrity and prayer and courage, and I think he's fulfilled the office bestowed upon him in a very fine way," he said.
Once the pope's resignation takes place Feb. 28, a conclave will form as members of the College of Cardinals gather in a room at the Vatican to vote, Lawrence Rossow, professor emeritus in religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, said.
Rossow is also a professor of education at the University of Houston-Victoria.
The process is conducted in secrecy. Cardinals under the age of 80 are allowed to vote.
The cardinals vote, burning the ballots in a specially constructed chimney. The ballots are burned with straw when they haven't chosen a pope, producing black smoke, and are burned without straw, producing white smoke, to signal a pope has been chosen, Rossow, also a deacon for the Victoria Diocese, said.
There was talk during the last election on April 19, 2005, that a pope might be selected from Africa or South America, regions with a large Catholic population.
Fellhauer said he felt it was possible that such a thing could happen in the election of this pope, but acknowledged that most popes are European.
Rossow agreed the next pope will most likely be from Europe, noting the majority of cardinals are European, increasing the odds they would elect another European pope.
Fellhauer acknowledged the selection of a new pope can take time, but much of the church business grinds to a halt without a pope, so hopefully the question will be resolved quickly, he said.
Rossow agreed, noting the pope has become even more influential in recent years than before, and the selection of the next pope will be a crucial choice.
"The pope is an extremely influential world figure who can go anywhere and bring peace," he said. "The demands of the pope now, mentally and physically, are greater than ever before. ... Now, we have to realize it's an extremely difficult job, and no ordinary person can do it."