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February 17, 2013

‘The Church is never without its lead shepherd’

The Catholic Moment

Bishop Timothy DohertyLAFAYETTE — The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is truly historic — he is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years — but “the work of pastoring us has always belonged to Christ, so the Church is never without its lead shepherd,” said Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, who met Pope Benedict in 2010 and 2012.

Benedict was elected pope in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II. Now 85, he announced his resignation on Feb. 11, effective Feb. 28, citing his age and declining strength. He often walks with a cane, and has limited his travel and reduced the number of his audiences.

Pope Benedict XVI is a renowned theologian, scholar and author. His papacy was marked by his travels to the religiously threatened in the Middle East, the poor in Africa, and to major youth events. He often spoke out in support of life and peace, and for greater equality among nations. In the United States, he is well remembered for his visit to New York and Washington in 2008. In Washington, he met with the victims of clerical sex abuse.

“Certainly, coming to know the widespread abuse of children by priests has been an awful experience for the pope because he realizes the damage to the victims,” Bishop Doherty said. “Just as painful for him is trying to find a way to deal with those who abused power by not listening to victims or removing abusers from ministry. He has begun the changes that his successor will have to continue, primarily out of love for people, secondarily for the good name of all who worship, and minister under our roofs.”

A native of Bavaria, the pope grew up in Nazi Germany and knew the horrors of war. That background made his pleas for peace and love even more profound and personal.

“The last five popes were native to countries that experienced war and occupying armies on their soil,” Bishop Doherty said. “They witnessed war for what it is, and often how social inequities — not the same as inequalities — became the engines for ideological conflict that produced first domestic, then international conflict and armed confrontations.”

The pope’s resignation will affect the diocese at some symbolic levels, but “not in terms of Church governance,” he said, because local bishops are “true heads and pastors” of their dioceses.

Dioceses that are waiting for the pope to name new bishops, Bishop Doherty said, may have to wait until the next pope takes action.

Pope Benedict embraced social media, and recently opened his own Twitter account. The immediacy of those communications technologies, coupled with the ease of modern travel, have allowed recent popes to form more personal connections with Catholics worldwide, Bishop Doherty said.

“Some people get very attached to personalities who help or challenge their faith, and they can feel unanchored when that personality is no longer present,” he said.

“Many people view change as a threat, but since the Catholic Church is a living organism, it is something that we should do well,” he said.

Bishop Doherty was formerly a monsignor, pastor and health care ethicist for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. Pope Benedict named him bishop of Lafayette in 2010. Three of the cardinals who will elect the next pope attended his installation ceremony in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Lafayette.

Bishop Doherty met Pope Benedict XVI twice — at the papal retreat, Castel Gandolfo, in September 2010, and during his ad limina visit to Rome in February 2012. All bishops meet with the pope every few years on ad limina visits.

“I felt it was a great thing to actually meet and grasp hands with the man who embodied the authority of Christ to call people to himself and to service,” Bishop Doherty said.

He urged the faithful to pray for the pope and the Church during “this exciting moment that has been given to us.”

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