HARRISON, N.Y. – Although "naturally surprised," to learn the news, Monsignor Francis McAree, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Harrison, said he respects Pope Benedict XVI for his decision to resign effective Feb. 28.
"It's a courageous act," said McAree. "He's 85 years old and there's an awful lot to do in his position. He put the best interests of the church first, and himself second."
Pope Benedict said in a statement released by the Vatican in Rome that his “advanced age” forced him to make the decision to step down.
"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 leader of the Catholic Church in 2005 after Pope John Paul II’s death.
McAree said Pope Benedict filled the shoes of his successor well.
"Their personalities were very different," said McAree. "Pope Benedict was a theologian, while Pope John Paul II was a philosopher. He [Pope Benedict] will be remembered as a great theologian and pope."
The next pope, decided by a conclave of bishops after Pope Benedict resigns, "needs to have qualities of the past two," McAree said.
He added that "complete dedication to the church and personal holiness" are mandatory requirements for what he called "the second most powerful position in the world."
While he would love to see it happen, he said he doubts that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, will be elected the 266th pope.
McAree said he thinks Pope Benedict XVI would allow the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics "to take the reins fully and not impinge."
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