BOSTON — Following Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement that he’s resigning at the end of the month, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who was traveling on Monday, released a statement saying that it is time to reflect on the pope’s legacy and achievements.
Many in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston reacted positively to Benedict’s decision, but there was some skepticism among victims of clergy sexual abuse about why a pope — for the first time in nearly six centuries — is resigning.
Most Boston-area Catholics stopped Monday to ask their reaction to Benedict resignation had similar reactions to these from some Boston College sophomores heading to the gym:
“I was first surprised because I hadn’t heard anything about him thinking about resigning,” Joe Davidson said.
“I was a little surprised,” Riley Colman said. “I heard it’s the first time in, like, 600 years that it’s ever happened.”
“I didn’t really know you could do it [resign],” Amani Teshome said.
Many see the resignation in a positive light, including Mike Rose, of Medfield, who was attending noon Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Newton.
“It’s kind of exciting at the same time, thinking that there will be a new pontiff in our lifetime,” Rose said. “We’ll get to see someone new and see the whole process take place, you know? I have five young kids, so they’re going to experience that.”
But another parishioner of Sacred Heart, Dory Swanberg, said she feels like he’s abandoning the church.
“We need a leader. We’re losing everything,” Swanberg said. “If the pope thinks he needs somebody with more vigor, then about 90 percent of the world should resign from living. We all have a job to do right up until the end.”
Boston College theology professor Thomas Groome disagrees. He thinks it shows courage.
“I think it’s a very positive sign,” he said. “Many of us had wondered if John Paul II might have resigned. He decided to stay on, so in a sense it gave a signal that popes just simply don’t resign. I’m delighted that Benedict, in a sense, has moved us into the 21st century.”
Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims React
Boston is the epicenter of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, which took up so much of Benedict’s time during his papacy. And before he was pope he was director of the Vatican agency that oversaw complaints of clergy abuse. Many victims say Benedict did little to stop the practice of bishops moving accused priests to parishes where they might abuse again.
But O’Malley, in his statement, praised the pope for meeting with victims during this visit to the United States in 2008.
A leading member of the victims community, Bernie McDaid, of Salem, was the first to speak with the pope. McDaid said Benedict’s departure is a relief to him.
“I hate to say it this way, but I will — one down and many more to go,” McDaid said. “Anybody culpable for this problem with children needs to step down.”
McDaid said he’s spoken to many other abuse victims who feel the same way. BishopAccountability.org, the website that tracks priest abuse and the coverup all the way to the Vatican, thinks there’s more to the story.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more revelations to come,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-founder of BishopAccountability.org. “I think it’s very possible that he knows of something on the horizon that finally was the tipping point and just caused him to resign.”
But most Catholics we spoke to take the pope’s departure at face value. Benedict is 85 years old and in his statement he said he’s lost the strength he needs to run the church.
On Tuesday O’Malley, who is one of the 120 cardinals who will elect the next pope, will talk about the next steps in papal succession.