Local Catholics praise pope’s decision as act of courage

Local Catholics, surprised by Monday’s historic announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he will soon step down, look with faith to the future of their church.

“As Catholics, we trust in our Savior to guide the church,” said Angela Linder, a member of Everett’s Immaculate Conception Church. “Through prayer and discernment, the College of Cardinals is going to choose someone true to the faith, to be a loving and firm voice in a world where so many people turn away from faith.”

Linder called the 85-year-old pope’s decision to resign “an act of courage, an act of grace.”

Casey Ross, director of campus ministry at Archbishop Murphy High School, saw Pope Benedict in 2011. Ross chaperoned a group that traveled to World Youth Day events in Madrid, Spain. In 1993, and again in 2000, Ross saw Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in Denver and Rome for World Youth Day, a festival for Catholic young people.

“I wouldn’t say he was any more frail than Pope John Paul II,” Ross said of Pope Benedict, who officiated at the 2011 World Youth Day Mass at an airfield outside Madrid. “It’s a demanding job for sure. I am praying for him, and hoping he will have a long life and some much-deserved rest.”

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who leads the Archdiocese of Seattle that oversees all of Western Washington’s Catholic churches, said in a statement that he received Monday’s news “with strongly mixed feelings.”

“His decision is clearly a very personal, spiritual one, and it expresses his unfailing care and concern for the church he has served tirelessly throughout his life,” the archbishop’s statement said.

Sartain noted Pope Benedict’s history. Born Joseph Ratzinger, “he grew up in Germany during the Nazi scourge,” the archbishop said. Ratzinger served as a theology professor and bishop before Pope John Paul II called him to Rome to assume duties as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In that role, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a strict enforcer of church doctrine with a reach extending to Seattle. In a 1985 report for the Vatican, Ratzinger chastised then-Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen for not upholding church teachings on homosexuality, divorce, contraception and other issues. Hunthausen was stripped of some authority.

In 1987, Bishop Thomas Murphy was sent to be Hunthausen’s assistant, and in 1991 when Hunthausen retired to Montana, Murphy became archbishop. He later died of cancer.

Everett’s Duane Schireman, who chaperoned the 2011 World Youth Day trip to Spain, said Pope Benedict’s way with people was nothing like his reputation as a tough enforcer of doctrine.

“Right after he was named pope, most of the reporting was on this hard-core, cold German. In reality, it was really phenomenal how he could connect with people,” Schireman said.

In Madrid, Schireman said, Pope Benedict reached out to young people. “His closing comments were so full of hope for the young people and our world,” said Schireman, who plans to travel to the Vatican with his mother in May.

Popes have quit the job before, but not for centuries.

“It has happened possibly as many as 10 times in 2,000 years,” said Professor Mark Markuly, dean of Seattle University’s School of Theology &Ministry. “They didn’t keep records through history the way we do.”

Perhaps the most famous is Pope Celestine V;http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1201-1500/resignation-of-pope-celestine-v-11629849.html#13606342372651&0|9/8/2013%204:57:30%20AM|z-index:%201002;%20position:%20fixed;%20width:%20730px;%20height:%200px;%20margin-top:%20-0px;%20margin-left:%20-365px;%20left:%2050%;%20top:%2050%, who resigned in 1294, Markuly said. Dante Alighieri made Celestine V famous by putting him in hell in “Inferno,” part of the epic poet’s 14th century “Divine Comedy.”

“Dante put him there because he resigned. He gave up on the office,” Markuly said.

Markuly said Pope Benedict’s decision was surely a reaction to the overwhelming demands of the modern papacy.

Markuly doesn’t think sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church have anything to do with the decision. He does expect the next pope to confront big changes. “The next pope will almost certainly have to deal with the issue of women,” he said, whether that means allowing female priests or deacons. Other global issues include how Christians are treated in some countries, Christian views of capitalism, and debt forgiveness, he said.

He can’t predict whether the next pope will come from Italy, Africa, South America or some other place.

Stanwood’s Elisabeth Traut was thrilled in 2005 when a fellow Bavarian became pope. On Monday, Traut’s niece called her from Germany with news about Pope Benedict’s resignation.

“I think it’s a very wise decision,” said Traut, who came to Canada from Munich in the 1950s. “We all saw how Pope John Paul II was really failing in his last years. Today the church needs a strong, healthy leader. It took a lot of courage.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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