Archbishop: Surprised That Pope Resigned, Though He Did Notice Declining Health
Tobin says Benedict was physically weaker, though his mind remains strong. Says he will be remembered as important leader of the church
Archbishop Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis (wibc.com photo: Ray Steele)
The head of the Catholic Archdiocese in Indianapolis was just as surprised as anyone at news that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning.
"I was in prayer this morning when the phone rang, and I got up to answer. It was somebody calling from Rome," said Archbishop Joseph Tobin in a meeting with media members at the Catholic Center in Indianapolis. "I think it's rather remarkable, because the Vatican is a small village, and tip top secrets are not always kept."
News that the 85-year-old pontiff would become the first Pope since 1415 to resign did not catch the leader of 240,000 Roman Catholics in Central and Southern Indiana completely off guard. Tobin worked in Rome prior to his appointment to Indianapolis late last year. He had several interactions with the Pope, and says he could see that Benedict was physically aging. "I saw a fellow in his mid-80s who was finding it much more difficult to walk and to stand, and I think he had a great anxiety about falling, which is not unusual for people his age."
However, Tobin emphatically said the Pope's mind was still sharp, and Tobin believes part of the reason he resigned was his experience with his predecessor, John Paul II. John Paul's physical deterioration in his final weeks brought tens of thousands to the Vatican for a lengthy vigil that lasted until his death seven years ago.
Tobin says the man known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had retirement on his mind before he was elected Pope. "I am quite convinced that Benedict did not want to be Pope. He was going to see the transition from John Paul II, and then hang it up. He had a little cottage in Bavaria where he was going to retire, and he was going to write." But Tobin says he believes Benedict accepted his election out of a sense of duty to the Catholic Church.
Benedict is expected to continue writing on Catholic teaching after his resignation takes effect February 28th, and Tobin says he will leave a legacy of five decades as an educator. While he believes Benedict will not be happy that he was unable to complete some projects, Tobin believes the Pope was able to make a positive connection with Europe, much of which Tobin says had become skeptical of the Vatican.
As for the Pope's successor, Tobin says there is no way to predict that. "There's a really interesting Italian proverb that says 'he who enters the Conclave as Pope comes out as a Cardinal, which means the frontrunners usually don't get elected."