By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Who will be the next Pope?
The Catholic world never thought they’d be asking that question without a Pope serving until his death.
On Monday, all that changed when Pope Benedict the 16th, citing his advancing age and his concerns about not being able to carry out the duties of his ministry, announced his resignation.
Benedict will step down February 28th from his eight year papacy at the age of 85.
The scheduling of the Conclave — the meeting of the College of Cardinals to elect a new Pope — is still in the works.
Reaction to the announcement was overwhelming shock, as it had been a closely guarded secret.
“Other than his personal secretary and then the Secretary of State, Cardinal Sadano,” said Deacon Chuck Lewis, a long time Vatican observer, “No one in the Vatican knew.”
Camden’s new Bishop — Dennis Sullivan — who will be installed Tuesday — is among Benedict’s last appointments to run a diocese in the U.S.
The document that officially appoints Sullivan is signed by the Pope.
“That will be something to treasure,” says Sullivan. “Still, can you imagine the struggle of the Pope, to arrive at such a decision? It’s a decision he made in free conscience. It’s a decision he can make…and has never been done before. ”
The last papal resignation was 600 years ago.
Deacon Lewis described as what comes next as unchartered waters.
“For a church that is so prescriptive, so predictable, this is really unsettling. In an interview, he said if he believed he could no longer carry out this office — which is burdensome even for a young man — for an 85 year old, he would resign. He is a man of his word.”
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput — appointed by Benedict to come to Philadelphia in 2011 — reacted in a statement.
“As Pope Benedict the 16th, he 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,” Chaput said.
Deacon Lewis thinks one of those burdens was clergy sex abuse.
“If you look at the burden we have borne as a church because of the failure to protect children that has to weigh on any human being.”
Now, we wait for the scheduling of the Conclave, which will elect the new Pope. That should happen before Easter.
Only Cardinals under the age of 80 are permitted to vote, so that will include former Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, who is 77.
It was Benedict who ordered that Rigali be replaced, after his handling of the Philadelphia clergy sex abuse crisis.
The Pope has indicated that he will move to a monastery in Rome and live out his life in prayer.