Island Priest Backs Pope's Decision to Resign

A Roman Catholic priest on Martha's Vineyard says he understands why Pope Benedict XVI has decided to step down.

Visiting priest Father Brian Harrington didn't have to break the news to the small group of Roman Catholics who joined him for 8 a.m. Mass at the Good Shepherd Parish Center Chapel in Oak Bluffs Monday.

Like Harrington, the congregation's members had already learned from television that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning at the end of the month — the first pope in nearly 600 years to step down from what is considered a lifelong post.

"As a church, we feel bad because we're losing a person who is a great scholar and a holy man," Harrington told Patch after Mass.

"The (Roman Catholic) Church will go through a process of prayer and discussion, and ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit" in choosing a successor, he continued.

Speaking for himself as a priest, Harrington said he understands why the 86-year-old Pope, citing age and diminishing energy, has decided not to die in office.

"I retired myself, knowing the old body was kind of kicking out," said Harrington, 73, who stepped down in 2011 as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Seekonk. Now living on West Island in Fairhaven, Harrington has been filling in for Father Michael Nagle, who resumes daily Mass at the parish center chapel Wednesday.

Harrington acknowledged that the news comes as a shock: The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.

"You say to yourself, 'Wow, that's major," Harrington said.

But, Harrington said, "I'm happy for the man that he had the humility, if you will, to make that decision to retire.

"He wanted to give the church and the community the best that he could."

Harrington also said he's happy that the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will be relieved of the burden of the papacy in his old age.

"He can enjoy what time he's got, preparing himself to go home to the Lord," Harrington said.

What's your reaction to the news of Pope Benedict's decision to retire? Tell us in the comments.

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