[Editor's Note: Comments from the Rev. Msgr. William J. Scheyd, pastor at New Canaan’s Catholic church, St. Aloysius, have been added.]
Saying they wish the Catholic Church and its followers well in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement Monday morning that he's resigning, spiritual leaders from New Canaan in some cases are criticizing the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for his failure to address the sex abuse scandal and other problems.
The Rev. Geoff T. Sinibaldo of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church said that although he’s a Protestant, he’s always seen the pope as a leader for all religions “whether we like it or not.”
The 85-year-old pope’s resignation (full text below) is an opportunity for the Catholic Church to reflect and choose a new pope in a way that isn’t possible when a pope dies while leading the church “because you’re mourning a loss,” Sinibaldo said.
Saying that Benedict was the right choice because of his closeness to his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Sinibaldo added: “This transition is really an opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church to address some things in a way it hasn’t.”
“I don’t think the last two popes have dealt with the sex scandals,” he continued. “Not that they didn’t take them seriously, but they didn’t address the depth and magnitude of them in a way that a leader has to.”
Sinibaldo referred to the sex abuse scandals that have cost the Catholic Church more than $2 billion in settlements.
In his resignation letter, Benedict cites physical infirmity alone as his reason for resigning, saying, in part “…In order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
As Reuters reported Monday, the German-born pope’s health appeared to start failing in October 2011, one year after he himself said in a book he would resign if he felt unable to carry out his duties.
The child abuse scandals “hounded most of his papacy,” the Reuters article says. “He ordered an official inquiry into abuse in Ireland, which led to the resignation of several bishops. But the Vatican's relations with once Catholic Ireland plummeted during his papacy, to the point that Dublin closed its embassy to the Holy See in 2011.”
The Rev. Msgr. William J. Scheyd, pastor at New Canaan’s Catholic church, St. Aloysius, said he was surprised that the pope resigned and that he admires the pope’s courage and humility in doing so if he feels he cannot carry out his responsibilities.
Asked about criticisms of Benedict’s response to the sex scandal, Scheyd said he does not know anything about the pope’s personal response.
“I know that from my perspective that the Catholic Church is doing everything they possibly can and have been doing so last couple of years, to be sure the scandal is not repeated or continued, and this pope has been very firm in his leadership and has put people in place and done what he has needed to do to end this,” Scheyd said.
“Is everybody satisfied? You know, Jesus himself cannot satisfy everybody,” Scheyd continued. “You will have people critical of snow removal in Bridgeport, but you can look at the streets and say, ‘How can anybody accomplish this [snow removal] other than God himself raising the temperatures to 90 degrees?’
“I think the pope, particularly in recent times, has been very forceful and straightforward, saying this cannot be tolerated, those who have done it have been removed from their positions,” Scheyd continued. “We are definitely very sorry and the apologetic for having had it happen and not stopping it sooner.”
The Diocese of Bridgeport, which encompasses 82 parishes and 410,000 registered Catholics in Fairfield County, also could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mich Zeman, pastor at Talmadge Hill Community Church just over the Darien line, said he’s been following Ratzinger’s career since graduating Yale Divinity School in the late-1970s and that under Benedict, the Catholic Church has become more conservative and “smaller” so that it’s lost members.
Acknowledging the pope’s stated reasons for stepping down, Zeman said infirmity “as well as perhaps a landslide of criticism” may be causes.
“This pope has had a fair amount of criticism from American nuns as well, for his stance against women clergy, and his stand against potential abortion rights,” Zeman said. “I think, even more so, about his unwillingness to really create an open church. You are probably aware that the word ‘catholic’ with a small ‘C’ is universal and my sense is that this pope has created a church that is becoming less and less universal in its scope and, from my perspective, many of the pope’s positions are downright un-Christ-like.”
As Sinibaldo did, the Rev. Eric Fjeldal of the United Methodist Church said it’s a good thing for the pope to step down if he feels he cannot be effective.
“Other than that, it [the resignation] doesn’t really impact the United Methodist Church in any way,” Fjeldal said. “The ecumenical spirit, we still have it in this community and area, and we wish them well.”
Here's the full text of the pope's resignation letter:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."