Benedict’s Bombshell: Reactions to Pope Benedict XVI renouncing his office

By on February 20, 2013

In the wake of Winter Storm Nemo, junior Zack Daly woke up last Monday to a flurry of surprise and speculation at the Vatican’s announcement that Pope Benedict XVI plans to renounce his office.

Benedict’s renouncement marks the third in the history of the church, and the first in almost 600 years.

“Honestly, I was shocked,” Daly said.

Now 85 years old, Benedict released a statement that cited deteriorating “strength of mind and body” as some of the reasons behind his decision.

Daly, who is Grand Knight of Quinnipiac’s Knights of Columbus and a leader in Branches Catholic Campus Ministry, said he didn’t know what to think at first.

The pope will hold his final audience on Feb. 27, the day before his last as the spiritual leader of more than 1 billion Roman Catholics.

Senior Brian Farrell, a Roman Catholic, said he wasn’t surprised by Benedict’s decision.

“When he first got the nod, he was so old,” Farrell said. “[As pope] you’re under so much stress all the time. Look at what happens to presidents in just four years, how much they age.”

The pope is selected by the votes of 117 cardinals in a sequestered conclave, according to Catholic tradition. While Catholics believe the Holy Spirit guides the process of electing a pope, Benedict renouncing his position is not disrespectful to the conclave, campus priest Rev. Hugh Dyer explained.

“When [the pope’s] mind or body is no longer fit enough to carry the burden initially laid upon him, then he may step aside in good conscience,” Dyer said. “He gives back to the Church, the authority, which has been entrusted to him for the good of the Church, to choose another.”

Chris Johner, a freshman psychology major, is in agreement.

“Certainly somehow you could rationalize that the pope’s decision was also God’s will,” Johner, a Christian, said. “Somehow this has to be God’s choosing.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi initially said the conclave would start between March 15 to March 19, but experts are currently studying the Apostolic Constitution and protocol to see if the meeting might be happen sooner because it was not triggered by death.

Dyer said there could be more changes within the papacy, including a new precedent or “feeling of more freedom” for older popes to exercise the same option of renouncement.

In laying aside his power, Benedict has witnessed to the world what they need to see, Dyer said. Dyer compared the impact of Benedict’s decision to how his predecessor John Paul II brought attention to the value of suffering with his own actions.

Daly expressed doubt about a precedent.

“Him stepping down is a rare occurrence,” Daly said. “There’s a reason why we haven’t seen it in 600 years and there’s a good reason why we won’t see it for another 600 either.”

These unexpected changes bring into question what the conclave will look for in the next pope.

Chelsey Paholski, a junior in the ELMPA program, thinks the cardinals might look to elect a younger, English-speaking, tech-savvy pope.

“I thought the Twitter thing was interesting because it’s a way to reach more people … especially the younger generation,” she said. “It’s important [for the pope] to communicate efficiently.”

Johner, however, said social media is not appropriate for prominent religious leaders, and the next pope should stay away.

“Social media is just a place for drama to happen,” Johner said. “You get statistics like the followers of [Barack] Obama and the Dalai Lama and then the pope put together are less than what Justin Bieber has. That’s absolute crap.”

He said the papacy should go back to its traditional ways, before the rise of Twitter.

“As a pope he already has true followers, people who actually visit him and come to the Vatican,” Johner said. “Why have virtual followers?”

Dyer speculated the cardinals will look for a prayerful, committed, fearless man with “physical vitality,” but said anything could happen.

“Ultimately in the face of the Mystery, we must let go,” Dyer said.

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