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Syracuse Bishop reacts to Pope Benedict's resignation

Ellen Abbott
WRVO file photo
Diocese of Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunningham

The 285,000 Roman Catholics in the Syracuse Diocese are among those digesting Monday's news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Like everyone else, the Most Reverand Robert Cunningham, Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse, was surprised at Monday's early morning news, but thinks the pope's decision is a courageous one.

"I certainly wasn't expecting something like that," said Cunningham. "But at the same time, I admire the pope's courage in recognizing, in a certain sense, what are his limitations brought about by age and frailty."

Le Moyne College theology professor Donald Maldari is also among those who did not see the resignation coming, but he points to the part of the pope's message that mentions how fast the world is moving today, as key. "I think he recognizes very wisely and humbly, that he's not up to it.  And there's no shame in that. He's 85," said Maldari. "I think the shame would be if he didn't recognize he wasn't up to it. So I really admire him for saying I've done my contribution, now it's time for someone with more vigor to take over."

Cunningham says even though Benedict leaves the Vatican in a few weeks, he leaves a specific legacy for central New York Catholics. "He always was a great teacher even before he was pope. He's always been able to explain church teachings in a clear and concise manner," Cunningham said.

Maldari agrees, noting how Benedict continued writing and researching while he was pope. "He's written some beautiful encyclicals about social justice, the most recent one, and the importance of love. Now everybody says ya, ya love, but love has to be put into action, and he really calls for serious reflection for us to develop our humanity."

As for the future, Cunningham admits there will be challenges for the next pope. "The church stands, in a certain sense, as somewhat counter cultural," he said. "But the teachings of the church are timeless, and the new pope will carry on those teachings and explain them to the best of his ability to a world that isn't always open to what the church teaches."  

Maldari, also sees challenges, some of them from within the church. "There seems to be more and more polarization within the church, and I would hope the new pope would look at that, and allow a far greater diversity, " said Maldari. "Allow the church to be more catholic in welcoming all different expressions of the same faith."

Pope Benedict's papacy will end February 28, and although the conclave of bishops won't start the process of choosing his successor until March, the the speculation of who will succeed him has already begun.

Cunningham says he won't make any guesses, but doesn't think it will be an American. "I mean there's always a chance, but if I were a betting person I wouldn't put my money on it," he said. I don't think there will be an American pope. But, you never know."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.