SPOKANE, WASH. -- Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on Feb. 28 because he was simply too infirm to carry on — the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.
Bishop of Spokane, Blase Cupich, said the announcement initially brought sadness. Yet, Cupich told KREM 2 News that Pope Benedict XVI served the church well.
“I recall from my days of studying for the priesthood in the late 1960’s how much his writings as an eminent theologian inspired me. Since then I have had nothing but deep admiration and affection for him,” said Cupich.
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
Bishop Cupich visited the Vatican in April of 2012. He said that Pope Benedict XVI health changed dramatically when he returned in October.
"He had difficulty walking, it was very hard for him, you could see he didn't have that level of energy," add Cupich.
Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church.” Benedict was elected pope at age 78 and he had been already planning to retire as the Vatican's chief orthodoxy watchdog.
"Some have suspected he may return to his native Germany and allow his own family to be a part of his final years of his life," speculated Cupich.
Bishop Cupich does not believe the Pope’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal is an issue.
"I am sure that he can rest well that his legacy of how he handled this situation will stand the test of time," said Bishop Cupich.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner — the same situation when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
Contenders to be his successor include Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan,
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops.
Longshots include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Although Dolan is popular and backs the pope's conservative line, the general thinking is that the Catholic Church doesn't need a pope from a "superpower."
All cardinals under age 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave, the secret meeting held in the Sistine Chapel where cardinals cast ballots to elect a new pope. As per tradition, the ballots are burned after each voting round; black smoke that snakes out of the chimney means no pope has been chosen, while white smoke means a pope has been elected.