Monday morning started with a surprise for Reverend Timothy O'Sullivan of Levittown’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
O'Sullivan awoke to text message saying Pope Benedict XVI is resigning at the end of the month. The parish leader jumped out of bed and turned on the television. All the morning news programs were talking about a statement from Vatican City stating that “advanced age” had lead to the resignation.
“Absolutely unexpected, I was just stunned,” O'Sullivan said of the news.
Rev. William McGeown of Assumption BVM parish in Lower Southampton echo similar sentiments.
“I applaud [Benedict] for all that he has done, but he realized his limitations and has set an example for all of his, McGeown said.
The Lower Southampton church leader said he first heard the news at morning mass from shocked parishioners.
Monday’s announcement marks the first time in 600 years that a pope has resigned.
Both priests noted Benedict’s openness in the church and his intellect.
“He had a certain openness to the Anglican Church and accepting them,” McGeown said. “He helped make a more diverse church.”
The 85-year-old Benedict was condemned by some critics after being selected in 2005 for being harsh and extremely conservative.
O'Sullivan said he has a much different view of the Pope.
“He’s an intellectual at heart and not the outgoing personality that Pope John Paul was, but I’ve always seen him as a gentle grandfatherly person,” he said.
McGeown praised Benedict for being “extremely brilliant” and leading the church through ever-changing times.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said Benedict “has led God’s people through complicated times with uncommon grace, and his stepping down now, at 85, from the burdens of his office is another sign of his placing the needs of the Church above his own”
Local church officials said parishioners should expect very little change at the parish-level at the moment.
The Vatican said a new pope can be expected to be chosen during March, according to a CBS News story. The new pope is elected by the College of Cardinals in Vatican City.
The German-born Benedict oversees the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.