Pope's resignation sparks surprise
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
The month of February the past two years has been one of extra prayers for Roman Catholics in the Diocese of Salina.
On Feb. 11, 2011, Paul Coakley was ordained as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, officially ending his six-year stint during which he had endeared himself to many as the bishop of the Salina diocese.
Following a long year of uncertainty when a new bishop would be named, it was announced Feb. 6, 2012, that man would be Edward Weisenburger, a priest from the Oklahoma City diocese.
Exactly one year and one week later, another surprise -- this one even bigger -- came Monday.
Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, something that reportedly hadn't happened in 600 years.
"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," the 85-year-old pope told cardinals gathered for an ordinary public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints.
People expressed surprise, even shock, at the news.
"You're always a little surprised when you hear something like this, but I'm not shocked," said Sister Janet LeDuc CSJ, coordinator of pastoral care and evangelization for St. Joseph Parish in Hays. "God bless him for doing what he needed to do."
LeDuc said she heard the news on her radio Monday morning; she always awakens to National Public Radio.
"My first thought was the gentleman evidently was aware he needs to take care of himself and for the needs of the church; it needed to be done," LeDuc said. "I have deep respect for him for doing what he did. He did what he thought was best for the church."
Hays resident Eber Phelps also heard the news on NPR while driving to work.
"I thought I wasn't hearing it correctly at first," said Phelps, a member of the Comeau Catholic Campus Center at Fort Hays State University. "I know of some bishops who have resigned, but I'd never heard of a pope resigning. It's pretty shocking, I guess because it had never happened in my lifetime. But you have to think he did the right thing if it was because of his health."
Father Mike Scully, who lives in Lawrence but has longtime ties to Ellis County, agreed.
"I think it was one of the bravest decisions a modern pope has made," said Scully, who added priests were not aware of the announcement beforehand. "Yes, I was surprised, had no idea it was coming. But I think it's a statement of his integrity."
Liz Schmeidler, a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Hays, said she thinks area parishioners will be able to handle the news better now that the diocese has a bishop on board to lead them once again.
"The winds of change are always going to blow; the culture is ever changing," she said. "The one thing that remains is truth. And when I cling to the truth that Christ is always with us, I can handle the pope resigning."
The traditional nine days of mourning as a result of a pope's death don't have to be observed in this case, so Benedict's successor could be elected by as early as next month, in time for the Easter holiday.
In a statement printed on the Salina diocese website, Weisenburger asked all to pray in the coming days as the world awaits the election of a new pope.
"The pope's resignation is clearly a sign of our Holy Father's humility along with his profound love for the church," Weisenburger said Monday.
"I ask that you join with me in asking our Lord to grant him a lengthy retirement marked by good health, as well as his characteristic productivity. Indeed, I trust that the continuing years granted to him by our Lord will be a time in which he continues to bless the world with his prayers, theological writings and loving presence."