Streetsboro -- The Rev. Fr. Pat Ferraro, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish, said he thought it was a joke when someone sent him a text message that Pope Benedict XVI was planning to step down.
"I thought someone was pulling my leg," he said. "It was quite a shock."
The pope's announcement Feb. 11 that he was giving up his position because he is too elderly and infirm for the job was the first papal resignation in 598 years, according to published reports. The last pope to resign, Gregory XII, did so in 1415 -- 10 years into his tenure -- in the midst of a leadership crisis in the church known as the Great Western Schism.
The Rev. Ferraro said his parishioners' reactions to the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI were "literally from one extreme to the other."
"Some parishioners have said they think it's a really good idea because he's not looking so well," he said. "Other parishioners have said they are not happy because of the diminishing role of the pontificate."
Pope Benedict XVI will be retiring after an eight-year tenure at age 85. His last day as pope will be Feb. 28.
"I've heard that in his writings even before he became Pope, he talked about the pope retiring, so it's not totally surprising in that sense," the Rev. Ferraro said. "But it's been [almost 600 years since a pope stepped down,] so this is really odd."
The Rev. Ferraro said he has mixed feelings about Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.
"I think he looks frail, but so did Pope John Paul II," he said, referring to the man who preceded Pope Benedict XVI as pope.
"In some sense, it may be good [because of his age], but in another sense, there may be detrimental consequences because there may possibly be two camps -- one with an allegiance to the current pope and one with an allegiance to the new one -- so there may be some conflict.
"The Church will survive. It always has," he said. "Ultimately, the Holy Spirit leads the church. All we can do is wish him the best, and wait and see what happens. It's very interesting.
"In the meantime," he added, "we will deal with some of the messiness of human choices."
Reactions around us
Other Catholic church leaders in Portage County have reacted to Pope Benedict XVI's announcement with a mixture of surprise and acceptance.
The Rev. James M. Daprile, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Aurora, said the announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI "caught me and many of my parishioners by surprise."
"We expect a transition when a pope dies, and this [resignation] has not been a usual custom," he said. "The most modern thing he has done is to be aware of his condition," Daprile said.
"He is aging, weak and unable to carry forth the duties that are entrusted to him in a responsible way," Daprile said.
Daprile said people may have been surprised by Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, "especially in our culture where we don't see that as a normal [practice]. People want to die with their shoes on, and work sometimes well beyond their best energies, much to the detriment of companies and organizations."
"He has served the church mostly as a scholar pope," Daprile said. "That's what his chief contribution is. He was willing to engage the tradition through his research, and he tried to find a synthesis for the contemporary age. His love and hope were reflections of that.
"His humbleness and willingness to break with tradition of which he stood so strongly within, and to see that the needs of the wider church are being met, rather than just his own self-sustaining leadership, truly is a marvelous event," he said.
"The action doesn't need to be judged only in terms of leadership management, but more importantly, in terms of serving the leadership the church tries to expouse," he said. "The church tries to set a different example.
"He has challenged all of us to look at our commitments, our vitalities and the energies we use for our well being, serving God and loving our brothers and sisters," he added.
Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown, which includes Portage County, said he was saddened to hear of the pontiff's resignation, saying that given his age, it is "understandable but nonetheless a great loss for the Church."
"Pope Benedict's love of the United States was evident when he visited Washington and New York in 2008," he said. "At that time, not only did he meet with President Bush and the American bishops and hundreds of thousands of people, but also spent time offering solace to a group of victims of sexual abuse by clerics."
The Rev. Thomas Acker, administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Randolph, said his first reaction to the announcement was to contrast it with the 2005 death of Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II.
"God leads us in different directions at different times. With one, He showed us how to go through death graciously -- with this, how to make a transition graciously," The Rev. Acker said. "The Holy Spirit comes down and gives us different lessons for different time and different people,"
The Rev. Acker said he broke the news to many parishioners at the morning of Feb. 11 during Mass, while parishioners broke the news to the leader of the county's other St. Joseph parish.
"My first reaction is surprise. I certainly didn't see that coming," said the Rev. Michael Garvey, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Mantua.
The Rev. Garvey said he admires Benedict and called his resignation "a courageous move, unprecedented in 600 years."
He said his thoughts are with the pope, who is 85 years old, and would "ask for prayers for the Holy Father, and guidance for the church in selecting a new leader."
As for the selection of the next pope, "it's kind of hard to read the tea leaves," The Rev. Garvey said.
He said he would like to see a younger man in his late 50s or early 60s take up the mantle, possibly "someone who would have a world view as opposed to a strictly Italian or European world view."
"But I guess I'll have to leave that in the Holy Spirit's hands," he said.