HARRISON, N.Y. – Harrison residents were surprised Monday morning to learn Pope Benedict XVI’s would step down as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics effective Feb. 28.
“I was in shock,” said Harrison resident and Catholic Fran Misuriello. “I never thought I’d see the day the pope would resign – took me by surprise.”
The 85-year-old Pope Benedict said in a statement released by the Vatican in Rome that his “advanced age” forced him to make the decision.
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," Pope Benedict said.
The German-born Joseph Ratzinger is the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. He took over as the leader of the Catholic Church in 2005 after Pope John Paul II’s death.
Misuriello said she could understand why he would resign due to his failing health.
“If it’s truly his health, then that’s a real reason he might have to resign,” she said. “I understand that. I wasn’t aware he was that sick. I hope he’s OK, so he can live the rest of his time healthy and peacefully. I think he did the best he could under the circumstances.”
Local librarian Judith Clark said she was stunned by the news.
“It’s sort of weird when he’s doing it too because Wednesday is the start of Lent and that’s a season that you would think he would at least try to get through Easter,” she said. “I think he’s actually probably doing the right thing.”
Scandals throughout the church and the Pope's deteriorating health made Pope Benedict resign, said Clark’s coworker and fellow Catholic, Kathleen O’Connor.
“He’s just had it,” she said. “It’s something really new.”
O'Connor said she would like to see the next pope be in his late 50s or early 60s.
A conclave of bishops from throughout the world will come together and vote on the next pope, who will be elected before Easter, the Vatican said.
Misuriello wished the future pope and Pope Benedict well.
“We would support anyone that takes over,” said Misuriello. “No one’s going to replace Pope John [Paul II]. He was one of a kind. There’s always going to be that person to live up to.”