The news earlier today that Pope Benedict XVI plans to resign later this month took many local Catholics by surprise, but religious leaders believe the pontiff is doing the right thing.
On Monday morning, the Vatican announced that the 85-year-old pope will be resigning by the end of February because of his inability to fulfill the duties of his office. Pope Benedict said in a statement that his strength "has deteriorated" in the last few months, according to a CNN report.
"Everyone is talking about it," said Msgr. Bill Hatcher, pastor of St. James the Apostle Church in Springfield. "In a certain sense it's a surprise announcement because no one saw it coming."
This will be the first time in at least 600 years that a pope has resigned, rather than die, in office. It will also be the first time since the Middle Ages that there are two living popes within the Catholic Church. Typically, when a pope is selected, he serves in that role until death. Pope Benedict will vacate his post as head of the church on Feb. 28, at 8 p.m.
The news comes just weeks before Lent and Holy Week, the period of time leading up to Easter Sunday, which this year, falls on March 31.
Msgr. Bill believe Pope Benedict gave his decision to resign a great deal of prayerful and thoughtful consideration, and he supports the pontiff's decision.
"He's a very intelligent man, as you can see from his writings," the pastor said. "His intelligence is coming through with his decision that he just can't do this physically anymore."
The pastor believes that Pope Benedict's decision is his way of serving the Church by recognizing his limitations.
"I think it's more about his health than anything else. He needs to be present to the people and be out there proclaiming the message in person," Msgr. Bill said, adding that the pontiff recognizes that his age and health will limit his ability to travel and visit Catholic communities throughout the world.
The next step for the Vatican will involve the selection of a new pope by the College of Cardinals, who will meet in conclave to make their selection. Typically, a period of mourning following a pope's death precedes the conclave, but in this case, the cardinals can begin the process sooner, according to local religious leaders.