After serving about eight years as the leader of the Catholic world, Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he will resign from his papacy.
Pope Benedict, 85, announced he would step down from his post at the end of February, citing his old age as his reason.
His resignation marks the first time a pope has stepped down from his post in about 600 years.
“I think we have to offer some praise to this person,” said David Hackett, UF associate professor of American religious history. “He knows he really can’t hold this job right now, and he’s recognized his limitations. He realized it, and I think this is great.”
Pope Benedict, formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger, was elected pope in 2005 at the age of 78, making him one of the oldest elected popes in history.
Traditionally, the next step is a period of mourning, Hackett said, followed by a gathering of cardinals, known as a conclave, for the election of the new pope. But this situation is anything but traditional.
“What it will be is more of an administrative period,” said the Rev. David Ruchinski, pastor of St. Augustine Church. “The sedevacantism [the empty seat], which is normally characterized by mourning, in this case is going to be the time that they need to be able to pull together the cardinals for the conclave.”
But the timing of Pope Benedict’s announcement comes at a busy time for most bishops as Easter is rapidly approaching.
“Since Easter is the time when converts come into the church on Easter Vigil, most bishops wouldn’t want to be away from their dioceses,” Ruchinski said. “I would think that they wouldn’t pull the conclave together until after that.”
One such Easter convert is Emily Stowers.
Stowers, a 19-year-old UF English and political science sophomore, has been in Catholic conversion classes since December.
She said she was surprised about Pope Benedict’s resignation.
“I’m a new Catholic, and I didn’t know that the pope could resign,” she said.
As of Monday night, official timetables for the conclave and voting process have not been announced.
Ruchinski said he, along with almost a billion other Catholics around the world, will have to wait for the election of the new pope.
“We’ll pray for the current pope, for his health and the ease of transition and for peace of mind as he takes this step,” he said. “And then, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that those who gather for the conclave can choose wisely and choose well.”