PARKERSBURG - State and local Catholic church leaders are reacting to the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
Citing ailing health, Benedict announced Monday morning he would resign at the end of the month. Benedict is the first pope to resign since 1415.
A statement from the Most Reverend Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, was issued Monday morning, just after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.
"By announcing his resignation today, Pope Benedict XVI is showing the great love and devotion he has for the church, specifically his devotion to Christ our savior," said Bransfield. "The Holy Father is being realistic about his physical limitations at this time in his life. I admire him for his courage and humility."
Although the pope's resignation was very sudden, "we always trust in the Holy Spirit and ultimately, because the upcoming Lenten season is a deeply spiritual time for Catholics, we must continue to have great trust in the Holy Spirit during this period of transition in our church," Bransfield said.
Monsignor Joseph Peterson, pastor for St. Margaret Mary Church in Parkersburg and vicar for the Parkersburg Vicariate, said he, like everyone else, heard of Benedict's resignation on the morning news.
"It was a surprise to me," Peterson said. "It is certainly unprecedented in modern times."
Even so, Peterson said he believes Benedict's decision to step down was one born of love.
"I do think he has been influence by the papacy of John Paul II," who suffered for years with failing health, Peterson said. Benedict "realized, in his love for the church, he did not want to put the church through that kind of illness and uncertainty again. He was very humble in placing the needs of the church ahead of his own.
"I think (Benedict) will be remembered as one whose love for the church led him to this very thoughtful decision to resign."
Bransfield said Benedict has chosen a perfect time for his announcement.
"With Lent forthcoming, a transition in the papacy can be accomplished before Easter, before spring," Bransfield said.
Bransfield celebrated Benedict's service during Mass Monday at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling. The event was streamed live over the Internet, and Bransfield asked all to pray in thanksgiving for the pope's service.
"It is beautiful that he has chosen this to occur during Lent and completion by Easter, so that the presence of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection of Christ become living examples of what the church is moving toward," Bransfield said during the service. "We pray, therefore, that the Spirit will invigorate the cardinals who will be voting and bring them into unison in choosing a person who can truly lead the church in troubled times."
Peterson said while he does not plan to address the pope's resignation in a sermon, he has a feeling it will be a topic of conversation at the church in the weeks to come.
"I will make it part of the discussion, and I also will encourage our congregation and community to pray for the church during this time of transition," Peterson said.
For more information, visit the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at www.dwc.org.