Father Owen Moran of St. Rose of Lima Church in East Hanover called on Catholics to pray for Pope Benedict XVI as he announced his decision to resign for health reasons effective Feb. 28.
"We have great affection for our Holy Father Pope Benedict. He’s been a tremendous pope for almost eight years, and we want to support him with our prayers and our love as he makes the difficult decision to retire," Moran said Monday.
Pope Benedict is the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign. When the College of Cardinals elects a new pope in conclave, the election is usually for life.
Born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, in Bavaria, Germany, he was a cardinal under Pope John Paul II. "As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was very close to Pope John Paul and he worked with the pope when he was aging and quite ill. He was able to assist the Holy Father a lot," Moran said.
"I would suggest that maybe Pope Benedict doesn’t want to rely on someone. I think he would rather rely on the Holy Spirit and the cardinals to find a younger man and lead us in the future," Moran said.
Priests usually retire at age 70, Moran said, and Ratzinger became pope at age 78. "An 85-year-old man realizes his body isn’t as strong as it was when he [was] in his late 70s," Moran said. "I think we grow older sometimes without noticing it. If you look at a picture of yourself eight years ago, we've all aged. And when somebody is consumed by what they do, we can't not give 100 percent of who we are."
When asked if this kind of resignation may become more common as life expectancy increases and modern medicine improves, Moran said he believes it is possible.
As Pope he held up bans against divorce, birth control, stem cell research, gay marriage, married priests, female priests and homosexuality.
He also expressed shame at clerical sex abuse, including once on a trip to the U.S., and made overtures to the Jewish community in the U.S. and in Germany. His first foreign trip from the Vatican was to Germany, where he visited a synagogue. When he visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul he prayed next to a Muslim cleric.
Pope Benedict was elected on April 19, 2005. He was the first German pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church since the 11th century.
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.