By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Like people around the world, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, prelates in the region and local clergy were surprised by the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI plans to resign at the end of this month.
They also lauded his decision to resign as a sign of humility and concern for the global church.
“I have great love and great esteem for our Holy Father Benedict and I am very touched by his humble admission of the strength necessary to carry on this ministry of Christ,” said Archbishop Kurtz during a press briefing at the Chancery just hours after the announcement hit news outlets around the nation. “This is a decision that reflects both Pope Benedict’s stewardship of his office and also is a sign of great humility.”
Archbishop Kurtz, who said he first heard the news through a series of Twitter posts, gave thanks for the pontiff’s spiritual leadership during the last eight years and noted with “deep gratitutde his apointment of me as the Archbishop of Louisville almost six years ago.”
He also called on the faithful to pray “in gratitude for the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and with deep prayers to guide the cardinals who will meet in consistory immediately after February 28th to elect his successor.”
His call to prayer was echoed by archdiocesan clergy as they reacted to news of the resignation.
Father William D. Hammer, president of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s priest council, heard about the pope’s announcement from a group of Christian leaders in Bardstown, Ky., when he arrived for a meeting of the Bardstown/Nelson County Ministerial Association, he said.
“I will be praying very intently for the Holy Spirit to guide us in the election,” said Father Hammer, who is pastor of two parishes — the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown and St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky.
“This is an exciting time in the church and certainly one that invites us to reflect upon how the church was established on the Rock of Peter,” said Father Hammer. “It’s also a time of great prayer to discern with the College of Cardinals to ask the Holy Spirit to send forth a new leader.”
Father Hammer speculated briefly about the reasons behind the pope’s resignation.
“Pope Benedict has established a priority for our future — the new evangelization,” he noted. “Maybe he sees the church needs a new leader to guide us forward in that effort. I think anyone who might be elected pope will have that as a priority. As a church, that will be our direction for the foreseeable future.”
Father Dale Cieslik, archivist for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said that whoever suceeds Pope Benedict will be “a reflection of who Blessed John Paul II was and who Pope Benedict is.”
In fact, he noted, “There’s no cardinal (eligible to vote in the conclave) that would have been named such prior to John Paul II.”
Father Cieslik, who learned about the resignation through the Today Show, said that among the most significant moments of Pope Benedict’s pontificate were his 2008 visit to the United States and when he appointed two priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville to be bishops.
“A highlight of his papacy, in my opinion, is when he came to the United States and honored our diocese for its bicentennial,” he noted. “But I think his best work was making (Bishop William) Bill Medley and (Bishop Charles) Chuck Thompson bishops. I think that was his best work on the local scene.”
Father Cieslik is pastor of All Saints Church in Taylorsville, Ky., and St. Francis Xavier Church in Mount Washington, Ky.
Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Ky., and Bishop Charles Thompson of Evansville, Ind., also issued statements of appreciation and praise for the pontificate of Pope Benedict.
Bishop Thompson, who served as a priest of the archdiocese for decades before Pope Benedict asked him to lead the Diocese of Evansville, said in his statement that he met the pontiff on two occasions, once at Castel Gandolfo, (the pope’s summer residence) for a meeting of new bishops in 2011 and once on his ad limina visit last February.
He described the pope as a man of deep faith, great intellect and incredible compassion and praised the Holy Father’s decision to resign.
“Always the great teacher, given whatever physical and/or mental struggles that may have prompted his decision, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI has sought to use this occasion as a teachable moment,” Bishop Thompson said in his statement. “With a keen sense of reading the signs of the time, he is well adept to grasping the full measure of his decision. It is quite apparent that he realizes this to be right for the church at this particular time.”
He repeated a call to prayer, asking the faithful to join him in praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Bishop Medley, who served the archdiocese as a priest before Pope Benedict named him Bishop of Owensboro, characterized the pope’s resignation as an act of “humility and generosity.” He also noted that the Holy Father intends to continue serving the church in a life of prayer.
“Given that he has been one of the most renowned theological scholars of the past half century, we might expect that he would continue to write and publish as he is able.”
He said the pope’s legacy is multi-faceted, thanks to his passion for evangelization, unity among Christians and ecumenism, care for the poor and his efforts to bring about peace and non-violent resolutions.