Local priests weigh in on turnover at Vatican

Local Catholic clergy are awaiting the decision from Rome as to who will replace Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world this week by saying he intends to resign.

Citing failing strength of his “mind and body,” Benedict said Monday he would be the first pope to step down in 600 years.

Local Catholics said Benedict, who succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005, has made an intelligent decision for the church.

Some local priests say the resignation is not unthinkable to those who have paid attention. The Rev. Kenneth Doyle of the Diocese of Albany said while he initially was surprised, he said the pope had hinted at resigning if his health deteriorated.

The Rev. Donald Czelusniak of Gloversville, who led 20 local pilgrims to the Vatican in October to see the pope and the beatification of St. Kateri, said Benedict had mentioned publicly he could step down if his health fails.

Benedict, whose resignation goes into effect Feb. 28, does not have a successor as of Friday. However, cardinals will meet in the near future to discuss and select his successor.

Doyle said some of the qualities that the church looks for in a pope are holiness, intelligence and pastoral instincts. Doyle said these must be tempered with an openness to new ideas.

The Rev. George Belgarde, director of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, said the next pope will have to honor many of the previous pope’s policies.

“I would hope for the continuation between the good relationship between faith and science,” Belgarde said. “Both modern popes have promoted this.”

The Rev. John Medwid of St. Mary’s Church in Amsterdam said one of the more important things he hopes the next pope will do is continuing the reforms that started in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council, which attempted to modernize the Catholic Church by allowing Masses to be said in languages other than the traditional Latin.

Medwid said the previous policy, which he described as isolationist, had caused some fear among some people. Doing away with the Latin-only policy helped relieve some of that tension.

“I think it helped the church to enter into a dialogue with the world,” Medwid said.

Czelusniak said he’d like to see the next pope expand the evangelical services of the church. Medwid agreed, saying the challenge now is opening a “dialogue with the modern world” and trying to teach more people the relevancy of faith.

The Rev. Patrick Gallagher, pastor of St. Cecilia’s Church in Fonda and Sacred Heart Church in Tribes Hill, said he hopes future popes will follow Benedict’s example if they become concerned about their own health.

“I think what the pope did was wonderful,” Gallagher said.

Czelusniak said many of the current issues facing the church are external.

“They come from people who harbor positions that don’t follow the teachings of the church,” Czelusniak said. However, he said, this is a part of human nature, and he wants to see more “spreading of the faith.”

Belgarde said the new pope will face the still-lingering wounds from the sexual-abuse scandal that has rocked the church in the United States, Ireland and other nations. Belgarde said the scandal has been dealt with proactively, but the church is not infallible.

“The church has problems. We are a human organization,” Belgarde said.

Arthur Cleveland can be reached by email at montco@leaderherald.com.