Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday morning that he will resign, effective Feb. 28, according to the Associated Press.
CNN reported that a spokesman for the pope did not give a reason for the decision, announced during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, but according to the AP, the 85-year-old pontiff cited his "advanced age and diminishing strength."
The decision makes Benedict the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, according to the AP report.
"I am very shocked," Christopher Milano, a member of St. Lawrence O'Toole (SLOT) Church in Brewster said in an email. "[I] never new he could resign, thought it was till death."
Born Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI was chosen in 2005 to succeed the late Pope John Paul II.
"I think most of our parishioners will be perfectly understanding," Rev. Richard Gill of SLOT said of the Benedict's decision. "They remember how ill John Paul II was with Parkinson's the few years before he died and how painful it was to see him struggle to speak in public. It was inspiring to see him carry on, but also difficult. Pope Benedict knows that his health is declining and running the Church requires more than he has."
Gill, and others in the area, said the decision could be the start of a new precedent for future popes.
The Vatican could hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, according to the AP.
"The press always speculates about the next pope—whether he will change this or that, or ease up on some aspect of Christian moral teaching—but the real task for the new pope, no matter who he is, will be to continue in the same line, challenging the world to consider anew its relationship with God as the ultimate source of happiness," Gill said.
Milano will be one of many local folks following along as the conclave selects a new pope. In addition to being surprised at the news, he was critical of Benedict's reasoning.
Folks in other parts of Putnam have been discussing the news, too. Three posts—one detailing how to discuss the resignation with children—about the pope appear on the Facebook page for St. John the Evangelist Church, located in Mahopac.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement Monday morning.
"The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with His God in all he did," Dolan stated. "His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church. We are sad that he will be resigning but grateful for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St. Peter."
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