Chch diocese reacts to Pope's resignation

STANDING DOWN:  Pope Benedict will resign on February 28.
STANDING DOWN: Pope Benedict will resign on February 28.

Pope Benedict's stunning announcement to resign has been admired as "brave" by the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.

Speaking on behalf of Bishop Barry Jones, who is on holiday, Vicar General Father Rick Loughnan said the Pope's announcement yesterday took "courage".

He said it was unusual for a pope to resign, but there was a provision in church law and there had been four previous cases.

The last pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months.

His resignation was known as "the great refusal" and was condemned by the poet Dante in The Divine Comedy.

Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy.

Loughnan said Benedict's decision was "really brave" and would not have been made lightly.

"It takes courage to do that. It's the mark of the man. I think he's been an admirable pope and leader of the church. We will miss him."

He understood the Pope had no health issues but felt prohibited in doing his job to the full because of his age.

He said that while the Pope's mind was still sharp, his body had become increasingly frail.

"He felt no longer able to do the task justice. It's a huge task ... he's a world leader. It needs someone who's got the energy he no longer has to do it."

Loughnan said the Pope's resignation would not affect the parishes or the dioceses in Christchurch.

Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan, who worked at the Vatican's Secretariat of State for seven years, where his main role was writing speeches and talks for the pope, spent four years working with Benedict XVI.

Drennan was surprised by the announcement.

He described the Pope as an "introverted, humble and kind man".

Pope Benedict said in his speech: "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 ... 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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me."

The Vatican expects to elect a new pope by Easter.

The Press