Like many, Charlestown pastor Father James Ronan was surprised by the announcement Monday that Pope Benedict XVI would be resigning on Feb. 28—the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years.
But Ronan also said he respects the pope’s decision and believes it comes from a place of great intelligence, compassion and faith.
“He feels no compunction to have to fit himself into any goal or any expectation. He is free, and this freedom comes from, I believe, an internal freedom from his own relationship with God and his own spirituality,” said Ronan, the pastor at St. Mary - St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown.
Ronan added: “As a priest, I think it’s wonderful. I am very pleased that he has that kind of courage to trust in God, to trust in the church and not feel that he has to hold on.”
Still, the news was a shock, particularly because the last pope to resign from the position was Pope Gregory XII in the year 1415.
“The pope’s decision is very much a surprise,” Ronan said. “It’s a surprise, I would say, to the entire church, to people on the street who are Catholics, to those who are not Catholics, as well as bishops, archbishops, cardinals and pastors throughout the globe.”
The pope, who is 85 years old, made the announcement of his resignation at a Monday morning meeting in the Vatican, according to an article on Boston.com. He has served in the role since 2005.
In a speech to Vatican cardinals, Pope Benedict XVI referred to his own deteriorating strength and mind, saying he felt incapable of adequately carrying out the ministry entrusted to him.
Ronan said he worried people would be looking for “some sort of scandal or some sort of a skeleton in the closet” as the reason for the pope’s decision rather than taking him at his word, as the Charlestown pastor did.
“I suspect what you saw and what you’ve heard him say is probably exactly what is going on,” Ronan said.
The church’s Code of Canon Law was updated about 30 years ago to create a provision for a pope’s resignation, according to an article on WSJ.com.
“Many thought Pope John Paul II might exercise that exception,” Ronan said, citing the previous pontiff’s failing health in the final years of his papacy.
In fact, Ronan believes that seeing Pope John Paul II’s struggles with health in his later years may have contributed to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign at this point.
“Pope Benedict XVI watched his [Pope John Paul II’s] decline and, obviously, because they were dear friends, suffered along with him and realized how hard it was for him to do everything.”
As for what happens next, and whether St. Mary - St. Catherine of Siena Parish will hold any ceremonies in honor of the exiting pope, Ronan said he is unsure.
“There is no precedent for what’s happening now in modern history,” he said. “I think they’re going to have to discover and invent that.”
What is definite is that the Vatican will need to hold a conclave to elect a new pope—by mid-March, according to Boston.com.
What do you think? Were you surprised by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign? Do you agree with it? And how do you feel about this pope’s legacy?