Bishop holds press conference to discuss papal resignation
Story and photos by Rebecca Drake
SPRINGFIELD – For Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, the news of the impending resignation of Pope Benedict XVI wasn’t only a historic event for the Roman Catholic Church: It provided a moment of personal reflection as well.
“I’m 75 and I feel it,” he told reporters who gathered in the press room of the Bishop Maguire Pastoral Center, here, on Monday afternoon.
After reading the text of the pope’s statement issued earlier today, Bishop McDonnell said he can relate to the changes that the 85-year-old Pope Benedict describes. (For complete text of the pope's statement, see story in headline section of iobserve.)
“I know I don’t have the acuity, the strength, the energy I once had,” Bishop McDonnell said. He said he believes the pope’s decision was the result of careful consideration and clear thinking. “He has a clarity of thinking, a precise way of thinking… and he realizes his own abilities aren’t what they once were.”
Bishop McDonnell noted that Pope Benedict, who will become chaplain for a monastery of cloistered nuns after his resignation, will put his focus on being “a man of prayer, which is what we are all called to be as priests.”
Bishop McDonnell also told reporters that the Catholics will witness “a new and emerging role in the church, that of ‘pope emeritus’…. I don’t know what that will entail, but we will keep him in prayer.”
Responding to a reporter’s question, Bishop McDonnell said he does not believe that the pope’s resignation will delay his own plans to retire later this year as Bishop of Springfield.
“The Roman Curia will still be in operation,” the bishop said. “I expect we will have a new pope by Easter … And within the year, I will be presenting a new face to you.”
Asked to speculate on who the new pope will be, Bishop McDonnell said, “I leave it to the cardinals and the Holy Spirit.” He did add that “an African pope is a real possibility.”
Commenting on the papacy of Pope Benedict, Bishop McDonnell said, “He was a teacher, confidently and concisely presenting the faith.”
“He’ll be remembered as a great teacher,” the bishop said, noting that the pope’s trilogy of books about Jesus constitute “a prayerful meditation on the life of Christ.”
Asked what he has an idea of what an ideal papal candidate would be, Bishop McDonnell quipped, “Yes – but Jesus came only once.”
Speaking more seriously, the bishop said the next pope “will be a human being … and will have a love for the church and a love for people.’
Bishop McDonnell also explained that Pope Benedict will not be involved in choosing the next pope. He also said, in response to a reporter’s question, that there could be more papal resignations in the future due to the increased longevity made possible by modern medical care.
The bishop again compared the pope’s decision to his own situation as a retiring bishop. “I will be able to take on more ministry and less administration,” Bishop McDonnell said. “And I am looking forward to that.”
By making the decision to resign, Bishop McDonnell told reporters, “the pope is saying that God is ultimately in charge.”
Speaking to iobserve after the press conference, Father Bill Pomerleau (pictured at left), pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield, compared the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the death of Pope John Paul II, saying that both represent respectable ways to exit the papacy.
“There is genuine value in suffering,” said Father Pomerleau, who has expertise in church history. “We believe that people are useful even when they are older.”
Citing the example of Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in the 15th century, Father Pomerleau said, “He did it to be a help to the church … He brought peace; he ended the ‘Great Western schism.’
“So there is precedent to resign for the good of the church,” said Father Pomerleau.
Referring to Pope Benedict, Father Pomerleau said, “I’m pleased that we have a man who is thinking of the good of the church … I’m feeling admiration for him today.”
Watch for more on local reactions to the news of the papal resignation on the Feb. 16 edition of the weekly newsmagazine program, “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.