CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local leaders of the Catholic Church voiced their support for Pope Benedict XVI on Monday, following his shocking resignation.
Benedict, 85, announced Monday morning at the Vatican that he plans to resign Feb. 28, citing old age and a lack of strength to fulfill his duties.
This makes Benedict the first pope to resign in about 600 years. Of more than 260 men to serve as the leader of the Catholic Church, he is one of only a handful to resign before the end of his life.
"By announcing his resignation today, Pope Benedict XVI is showing the great love and devotion he has for the Church, specifically his devotion to Christ our savior," said Bishop Michael Bransfield, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. "The Holy Father is being realistic about his physical limitations at this time in his life. I admire him for his courage and humility."
Monsignor Edward Sadie of Charleston's Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral admitted the news came as a shock but called the move "bold" and "courageous."
"I was very much surprised that he did this, but he's recognizing his health problems and wanted to give our people a healthier leader," Sadie said. "The Pope is our visible focus, while our invisible leader of course is always Jesus Christ. The Pope is a visible source of unity and communion together, and he felt a younger person in better health would be a better representation of that."
Sadie said he views the news as an opportunity to educate more people about Catholicism and the roles of the Pope.
"I think as we go forward now, the eyes of the world will be on the Catholic Church as it deliberates who will lead us after Benedict, and of course, the church is universal so we will be looking for leaders all over the world," he said. "Benedict is going to spend the rest of his life praying and suffering for the good of the church, and I'm calling on all our Catholic people, and even those outside the church, to pray to the Holy Spirit that God will give the cardinals the guidance they need to pick a successor."