DeKALB – The Rev. Don Ahles hopes Pope Benedict XVI’s nearly eight years as head of the Catholic Church is not solely remembered for his historic announcement Monday.
Ahles, pastor of St. Catherine of Genoa, was shocked with much of the Catholic world when Benedict announced Monday his intent to resign Feb. 28, becoming the first pope in 600 years to step down.
While Benedict will certainly be remembered for the resignation, Ahles said Benedict’s legacy should also be one of love and the determination to carry on the policies of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
“He certainly has been a pope who has called Christians from all walks of life to come together in faith and love,” Ahles said. “I think he will be remembered as a loving and gentle pope.”
Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, cited declining health as the reason for resignation. The 85-year-old was one of the oldest elected popes when he took the position at 78 years old in 2005. Ahles said resignation has always been an option for popes, and many expected John Paul II to do so when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Ahles said many in the Catholic community support Benedict and his decision and will now pray for the leaders of the church as they select the next pope. A group of more than 100 cardinals will begin the voting process for Benedict’s successor sometime between March 15 and March 20, according to reports.
David Malloy, bishop of the Diocese of Rockford, said Benedict’s gestures of kindness and priestly virtue were his strongest characteristics. Malloy said he always felt a close bond to the pope because it was Benedict who appointed him bishop.
“He will leave a lasting imprint for all of us in many ways but especially for his dedication and fidelity to the teachings of Christ,” Malloy said.
Ken Anderson, pastor at St, Mary Catholic Church in DeKalb, said Benedict expanded the church, as evidenced by the most recent class of Cardinals that included men from developing nations.
Anderson said Benedict’s embrace of diversity will help the church and the next pope tackle major social issues such as violence, poverty, gay marriage and environmental concerns.
“He has a real love for all people and you see that in the diversity of the church,” Anderson said. “He was always about connecting the church.”
Benedict’s tenure did not come without its share of controversy. During his papacy, reports of sexual abuse of boys from priests surfaced in multiple countries and brought the power structure of the church into question.
Though it was a difficult time, Anderson said he believes historical reflection will show Benedict worked to bring justice to the offenders and for the victims.
“Justice was very important to him; that was his true response,” Anderson said. “Those [scandals] will always be connected to him because of the fact he was the Holy Father.”
The pope’s resignation also offers a rare educational opportunity for Catholic schools.
Ross Bubolz, principal of St. Mary School in Sycamore, said because popes are selected so infrequently the school makes sure to capitalize on the spotlight of the position. He said students would learn about the importance and history of the position as well as the role of the college of Cardinals in the process.
“This is something these children have never experienced,” Bubolz said. “It will be a great educational experience. The pope is certainly the example of great faith we show to our children.”