By GRETCHEN KEISER | Published February 14, 2013
ATLANTA—Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said that his many meetings with Pope Benedict XVI during the years when the archbishop headed the U.S. bishops’ conference and the future pope was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were characterized by memorable openness, true conversation and respect.
“I was always impressed with his preparation,” the archbishop said. “He was never afraid of hearing controversial items and he engaged quite openly with you. There were qualities about him of a university professor because that was part of his background. He liked the give and take that takes place in a real conversation. I always admired that in him. … He knew what you were there for. He engaged you, he respected you, he listened to you, and he allowed you to open your heart to him.”
In a press conference on Feb. 11 at the Chancery, the archbishop spoke about the announcement from Pope Benedict XVI that he would resign the papacy on Feb. 28 because of his age and physical limitations.
“Characteristic of the Holy Father was the humility of the statement and the pastoral love expressed for the church that has prompted his decision,” Archbishop Gregory said.
“He is a man of extraordinary wisdom and deep faith,” he said.
His “love for this local church was recently confirmed” by the appointment of Bishop-designate David Talley as an auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, he added.
While the archbishop said he was surprised by the announcement, he said he was not surprised that the pope’s “love for the church and his own awareness of his age and loss of physical stamina led him to make this decision for the good of the church.”
When he last saw the pope in May 2012 for the five-year report on the archdiocese, the archbishop said, “He showed his age.”
“Having been with him on many occasions over the last 20 years, I remember him as a very engaging and energetic individual, eager to enter into dialogue and to make himself available. In May, he was noticeably tired,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Asked by a reporter about the contrast with Pope John Paul II, who remained pope while gradually failing in health, until his death, the archbishop said perhaps seeing the years of illness that weakened John Paul II and preceded his death may have inspired Pope Benedict XVI to step down when his own health began to decline.
“I would suspect that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who worked with Pope John Paul II practically the full time of his pontificate, saw what a prolonged and slow unfolding of one’s age and physical stamina meant, and perhaps he, out of his love for the church, decided, let’s not do that again,” Archbishop Gregory said.
He asked all Catholics to pray for the pope and the College of Cardinals as they prepare to gather after Feb. 28 to begin the process of electing a new pope.
Asked by a reporter what he would look for in a new pope, the archbishop said, “What we are looking for is a pope of wisdom, pastoral experience, intellectual prowess, administrative capacity, someone who can respond to the needs of the world as they are today.”
“Holiness, wisdom, pastoral insight, availability, that’s what I would hope for,” he said.
The next pope “needs to proclaim the Gospel, he needs to invite people to holiness. He needs to enter those arenas of faith that need the unique witness of the successor of Peter.”
But, he added, the pope also now “needs to be able to cope with the reality of instantaneous and universal media and information” and with a world that “has grown a lot smaller.”
“The entire planet is knocking on the front door every morning,” Archbishop Gregory said.
He said that the pope’s theological gifts will likely be his legacy, along with his acceptance of election to the papacy at the age of 78, and now his decision to resign.
“I think his intellectual prowess will be a primary mark of his papacy. He was and still is a theologian, a man of letters, and theological acumen, and the ability to think in clear theological terms,” Archbishop Gregory said.
A Mass for Pope Benedict XVI will be celebrated on Feb. 28 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta at 5:30 p.m.
Text Of Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation Announcement
VATICAN CITY (CNS)—Here is the Vatican’s English translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation remarks, delivered in Latin, during an ordinary public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints Feb. 11.
I have convoked you to this consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of bishop of Rome, successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new supreme pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the holy church to the care of our supreme pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the cardinal fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new supreme pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican,
Feb. 11, 2013
Pope Benedict XVI