Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement Monday that he will resign effective Feb. 28 took the world by surprise, prompting Diocese of Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who is in residence in the diocese, to meet with East Tennessee media representatives and brief them on the pontiff’s decision.
Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali held a press conference at the Diocese of Knoxville Chancery, where Cardinal Rigali, who is a member of the College of Cardinals that will select Pope Benedict’s successor, discussed the papal succession process and answered questions.
“True to his deep devotion for the Church and his overwhelming sense of humility, Pope Benedict, with pastoral solicitude, has placed the care of God’s People first. This was a courageous decision made by Pope Benedict and I thank him for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St. Peter,” Bishop Stika said. “It was just one year ago that I met with Pope Benedict during my ad limina visit to Rome. I recall with joy and gratitude that meeting and the warmth and kindness of our Holy Father. His words were words of brotherly love and I was deeply moved by the Pope’s evident wisdom and holiness.”
Cardinal Rigali said he will travel to Rome later this month when he returns from a previously scheduled pilgrimage to the Holy Land to join the College of Cardinals and begin the process of choosing a new pope. This will be his second papal conclave to determine the next Bishop of Rome. He participated in the conclave that named Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was elected as the successor to Pope John Paul II on April 19, 2005. On April 24, 2005, he celebrated the Papal Inauguration Mass in St. Peter’s Square, during which he was invested with the Pallium and the Ring of the Fisherman. On May 7, 2005, he took possession of his Cathedral Church, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, and fully assumed his role as Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Rigali explained that for the first time in 600 years, the College of Cardinals will be choosing a successor to a pope who has resigned and not died, so Vatican officials will be dusting off the protocol used to assist the conclave.
Bishop Stika urged the Catholic faithful across East Tennessee to not be overwhelmed by Pope Benedict’s decision, uncertainty surrounding the papacy, and the impending ascension of a new pope.
“The important thing for us to remember is that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide the Church, just as Jesus promised His disciples: ‘I will be with you always until the end of time’ (Matthew 28:20). Please join me in praying for Pope Benedict and for the cardinals who will select his successor.”
The process for the election of the new pope will begin on March 1. The exact date of the conclave has not been determined, but it is expected that there will be a new pope in time for Easter, which is March 31 this year.