LINCOLN (SNR) – Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln are called to join the world in praying for Pope Benedict XVI and his successor, following the Feb. 11 announcement of the Holy Father’s plan to resign at the end of this month.
"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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," the 85-year-old pope said, reading from a prepared statement.
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln learned the news Monday morning Feb. 11 in an early morning phone call from Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. He said he was shocked to hear the news.
"Pope Benedict had not shown any indication of slowing down," Bishop Conley said. "His writing, speaking, travel and output were prolific."
The last time Bishop Conley saw the Holy Father was in December, when he was in Rome.
"He looked great for 85 years old," Bishop Conley recalled. "He is erudite, eloquent, and self-giving. His steadfast leadership and prophetic witness as the chief shepherd will be deeply missed."
He has known the Holy Father for many years. Bishop Conley worked at the Vatican for 10 years and served with, on numerous occasions, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
After Cardinal Ratzinger became Supreme Pontiff, they continued to interact from time to time. And, of course, it was Pope Benedict XVI who appointed Bishop Conley to the episcopacy.
"He is a man I have long admired and respected," Bishop Conley said.
In his statement immediately following the announcement, Bishop Conley expressed his admiration for the Holy Father.
"Pope Benedict is a scholar, a teacher, a shepherd and, most importantly, a witness to the presence of Jesus Christ in the world," he said.
"His fidelity to Christ and His Church is abundantly manifested in his love for the poor, for families, and for youth and students," Bishop Conley continued. "Pope Benedict is known for his deep prayerfulness, his love for the sacred liturgy, and the study of sacred Scripture."
Bishop Bruskewitz, whose retirement was accepted last September, shortly after his 77th birthday, expressed empathy for the Holy Father’s decision.
"I can certainly sympathize with, understand and identify with the Holy Father," he said, noting how he too has experienced diminishing energy as he’s grown older.
Speaking on behalf of Catholics throughout the diocese, the bishop emeritus added, "We are grateful to the pontiff for his great work for the Church, and for our Diocese, specifically for giving us the treasure of our new bishop, Bishop James Conley."
Worldwide, the Church is now entering a time of transition that is unfamiliar, but manageable. Following the Holy Father’s retirement Feb. 28, he will resume his previous title, cardinal, and plans to dedicate himself to prayer and study while living in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery.
While it is particularly unusual to have "two popes" alive at the same time, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombard dismissed any concerns during Monday’s media event at the Holy See press office.
"I wouldn’t have any fear about this," said Father Lombardi. "There would not be any interference with his successor… This would be completely against his personality."
Catholics around the world can still benefit from Pope Benedict XVI’s extensive writings and published homilies while welcoming the next successor to Peter, who will be chosen by a conclave.
Canon Law prescribes that the conclave must be held within a maximum of 20 days after the papacy is vacant. The 117 voting cardinals, all under the age of 80, will meet at the Vatican in March. It is hoped that a new pope will be named before Easter on March 31.
In the meantime, Bishop Conley urges all faithful laity, clergy and religious to pray diligently for the Holy Father, his successor, and the conclave.
"As we look now to the Church’s future, I ask you to join me in commending the election of a new pope to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church," he urged.