LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he will resign on February 28 caught Roman Catholics and many church leaders by surprise.
Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Vice President of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement on Monday that reads:
"I, along with all of the world, am surprised by Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign as Holy Father at the end of this month. His statement refers to the strength that is necessary for one to serve as Pope, and, as he nears his 86th birthday, he speaks of his strength deteriorating and his wish to ‘…devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.'
"I have great love and esteem for our Holy Father Benedict and am touched by his humble admission of the strength necessary to carry on this ministry of Christ. This is a decision that reflects Pope Benedict's stewardship of his office and is a sign of his deep humility.
"As I pray for him and for his successor, it is with gratitude for the wonderful spiritual leadership that he has provided for the Catholic Church throughout the world over these eight years. Of course I recall with deep gratitude his appointment of me as Archbishop of Louisville almost six years ago and with deep affection the ad limina visit of January 2012 and the three-week Synod for the New Evangelization last October.
"With Pope Benedict, I now call upon all the faithful to pray, both in gratitude for the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and with special prayers to guide the Cardinals who will meet in Consistory immediately after February 28th to elect his successor. May Christ guide us, and may our Mother Mary intercede for us."
As Archbishop of the Louisville Archdiocese, Kurtz leads about 200,000 Catholics in 66,000 households. The Archdiocese of Louisville consists of 24 counties in central Kentucky, covering 8,124 square miles.
It was October 2012 when Archbishop Kurtz last met with Pope Benedict in October for the new Evangelization. He said "I saw when I was in Rome in October no signs of frailty in terms of his capacity to interact, to speak and I'm sure at the age of 85 his ability to travel has been curtailed."
Archbishop Kurtz said he's always admired the pope's enthusiasm and spirit. He hopes the next to be elected has the same attributes.
It's been 600 years since a pope has resigned. Archbishop Kurtz says he admires Pope Benedict XVI's decision. "I would see it really as an effort of humility in which I already had great esteem for him, but I grow in esteem for him."
The church hopes to have a predecessor named by Easter on March 31.