Catholic university presidents and faculty reacted with surprise and admiration towards the news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation. Others took the opportunity to attack his legacy.
“The Catholic University of America is surprised and saddened to learn that Pope Benedict XVI will resign the office of the papacy effective February 28, 2013," said John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America. "Throughout his career, Benedict XVI has conferred upon the church the great gift of his theological wisdom, in a special way deepening our understanding of Catholic education and the role of the Catholic educator. He has been a public figure of considerable importance, reminding the world of the inviolable dignity of the human person, and the call of the Gospel to charity. Above all, he has been a faithful, charitable, and inspired leader of the church, a true lover of Jesus Christ. The Catholic University of America will always treasure in a personal way his visit to our campus on April 17, 2008, to address Catholic educators from around the United States. We will continue to reflect with gratitude on his papacy which has been a gift to The Catholic University of America, to the church, and to the world.”
"Pope Benedict XVI has been an outstanding pontiff who has led the Church with great courage and prudence,” said Christendom College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell. “Although I am saddened that he feels he can no longer lead the Church as a supreme pontiff, he knows—better than anyone else in the world—the burdens of this office. At this time, it is important for all of us as Catholics to rally around the Vicar of Christ and support him in this momentous decision. God, who has bestowed numerous blessings upon him throughout his life, certainly will continue to strengthen and inspire him as the Church continues to move forward in this Year of Faith with a renewed spirit of joy and confidence. Let us all together pray for the welfare of our Holy Father and for the Cardinals who will soon be gathering during the Lenten season to elect a successor.”
Dr. William Edmund Fahey, President and Fellow of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts took the occasion to write an article for Crisis Magazine titled "The Reason Benedict Resigned."
"The Holy Father’s reasons for resignation spring from a grave sense of office and a faithful belief in what that office truly is," wrote Fahey. "He has remained through his pontificate faithful and true to his vocation of father and teacher. Both father and teacher must daily put aside themselves to be true to their calling.
The papacy is not a mere person, it is not a great man, it is certainly not a bloodline or earthly principality. It is the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter. It is a sacred office entrusted to the entire Church. It is an enduring stewardship through time. Behind the Vicar stand the Kingship of Christ and the enduring nature of His Church, yesterday, today, and forever."
Some University of Notre Dame faculty used the opportunity to insult the Pope and his legacy.
“He leaves behind a church still staggering from the sexual abuse crisis, weakened by bureaucratic infighting, curial scandals and papal gaffes, and facing by a host of challenges...," said religious historian R. Scott Appleby.
"Benedict’s announcement has sparked speculation as to a likely successor and prompted widespread debate over his legacy," said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, associate professor of American Studies and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. "Any assessment of the latter will require consideration of his singular achievements, as well as recognition that his papacy was marked by moments and actions far less grace-filled than the announcement of his departure.”
University of Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins, however, took the opportunity to express gratitude.
“As surprising as today’s announcement is, it is apparent that Pope Benedict has made a decision that is motivated by his deep love for the Church,” said Father Jenkins. “He has been a dedicated pastor to Catholics worldwide for the past eight years – and even before as a cardinal, bishop and priest. As a former university professor, he is a serious intellectual with an understanding of education and appreciation for the life of the mind, and that has been important to all of us in Catholic higher education. As the College of Cardinals considers a successor to Pope Benedict, I pray God will guide their deliberations.”
Marquette University theologian Daniel Maguire used the opportunity to write a New York Times letter to the editor complaining about the Church and proposing his own design for it.
"The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI ....opens a window of opportunity for serious reform, starting with the papacy, in a church roiled in multiple crises," wrote Maguire. "If the scandal of the papacy as one of the last absolute monarchies in a democratizing world is not addressed,all other reforms will falter. Catholic scholarship is clear. There is no evidence that a papal monarchy was Jesus’ idea."
"Of course, if you accept that Peter was the first pope, there would be lessons. Peter was married. A happily married pope with a strong spouse and children could think more clearly on sexual and reproductive issues and not let the church get mired in obsessions that obscure the message of justice and peace that Jesus preached," added Maguire. "Of course, no change will occur if the Catholic laity act like sheep awaiting word from their all-male shepherds."
Faculty at faithful universities were filled with gratefulness for the Pope's service this past eight years.
“While Pope Benedict’s resignation is certainly unexpected, it is yet one more sign of the strong leadership he has exhibited throughout his papacy. It takes a particular kind of wisdom to know when to step down and a wonderful humility to do so," said Father Terence Henry, TOR, President of Franciscan University of Steubenville.
“I have nothing but the deepest admiration for all Pope Benedict has given to the Church and the world. I am particularly grateful as a university president for the Holy Father’s guidance on the mission and identity of Catholic education and his call for Catholic educators to ensure that ‘every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith’ (April 2008). I am also especially grateful to Pope Benedict for his recognition of the ‘grave threats’ to religious liberty and freedom of conscience in this country and his encouragement to fight to retain the ‘Church’s public moral witness.’”
“Upon his election as pope, some predicted that Pope Benedict XVI would be a polarizing figure, continuing his long-held role as the Catholic Church’s chief doctrinal defender and ‘censor,'" said Dr. Alan Schreck, professor of theology and interim chair in the department of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. "Pope Benedict certainly did not avoid controversy in the pursuit of truth, engaging in honest and serious dialogue with other religions and with modern culture, unafraid to challenge the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ Yet Pope Benedict was deeply committed to promoting reconciliation: among Christians, among nations, and with those alienated from the Catholic Church. His writings—Jesus of Nazareth, Verbum Domini on interpreting sacred Scripture, and his encyclical letters—are the fruit of a lifetime of prayerful scholarship. Finally, his bold and clear proclamation of the Gospel of Christ—the ‘New Evangelization’—and his call for a ‘new springtime of the Spirit’ among the youth and in the United States—reveal his vibrant spiritual vision, continuing the legacy of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II. In all of these ways, Pope Benedict XVI has left a profound impression on the Catholic Church and the world.”
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