Like many, Monsignor R. Vincent Gartland, parish priest at The Church of Saint Ann in Lawrence Township, learned of the Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation soon after he awoke this morning.
“Certainly, it was a surprise announcement. I think it caught most people by surprise,” Gartland said. “But I think it’s a good step. It really shows the pope sees that his work is really not about him but about the church. He’s reached a point where he feels his age is working against that, so it’s good to step aside and let someone else take over.
"Certainly, it must have taken a lot of courage to make that decision but he seems to be very clear about it, from what I’ve picked up. So it’s surprising but also somewhat consistent in the sense that he’s always puts the church first rather than himself.”
About three dozen parishioners were in attendance at the morning mass today at Saint Ann’s. “Some of them knew and some of them didn’t. So for some it was a surprise,” Gartland said. “But I think in the next few weeks it will provide us with a real opportunity to learn a little bit more about the history of the papacy and the role of the pope in the life of the church. It provides a great opportunity for learning a little bit more about the church and that’s always a good thing.
“I guess the timing is a good thing in the sense that it’s pretty obvious there will be a new pope by Easter," he continued. “So that will be a great celebration. As you know, we’re entering our Lenten season on Wednesday, which is a time of fasting and prayer for the whole church, and so I would suspect that this announcement will direct a lot of our prayer and fasting towards praying that God continues to do God’s work in the church and praying for Benedict XVI.”
While he has not yet had an opportunity to discuss the situation with Principal John McKenna and the staff at Saint Ann School, Gartland expects that teachers there will use today's announcement from the pope as a learning opportunity.
“People are more interested now. It will be on all the news and all that. So it’s a good opportunity for us to kind of help the kids understand the history of the papacy, the 2,000-year history of the popes, and the church and how we go about selecting a new pope,” Gartland said.
“And it’s a good cause for prayer,” he continued. “Since we begin Lent on Wednesday, it’s kind of a very special time anyway and during this Lenten season we’ll see another pope elected. Certainly, it’s a historic time. This hasn’t happened since 1415. A pope hasn’t resigned since 1415, and that was Pope Gregory XII. And he resigned really to put an end to the Schism – at one time there were several people claiming to be pope. Gregory was obviously the right pope but he resigned just to let the thing settle.
"It doesn’t happen very often. That’s why it took a lot of courage for Benedict to do that. I think he just realized that he’s not able to keep up with the work anymore. It’s a good thing to do, I think, when you know you’ve put all you can into it and you still don’t have any energy. Maybe it’s better for somebody else to take over.
“I’m just impressed with the courage it took and also the sense of church – as I say, it’s more about the church than about him," Gartland concluded.