Local clerics say Benedict to be fondly remembered
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
2/12/13 at 7:19 AM
Related Story: Pope stuns Catholics with plans to resign
Tulsa Catholics were stunned to learn Monday that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down, making him the first pope to retire in 600 years.
Kevin Sartorius, executive director of Catholic Charities in Tulsa, said he didn't believe it when a friend texted him the news early Monday morning.
Then his phone exploded with texts.
"This is the breaking news of the century in the Catholic community," he said.
"He's been a wonderful pope. He brought so much life to the liturgy," Sartorius said.
Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa sat down last March for a nearly half-hour meeting with Benedict, along with an Oklahoma City archbishop and an Arkansas bishop.
"It was a wonderful, wonderful visit," he said.
"My impression of him is the same as everyone who meets him. He's very warm and gentle. He listens. You get the impression he will remember what you said.
"You have to meet him, and shake his hand, and look him in the eye, and then you know you're dealing with a man of great empathy. He knows human nature, and he has a love for the person with whom he is speaking."
Slattery said Benedict's legacy will be that he focused on the spirituality of the church, particularly the liturgy, teaching that "if the liturgy is prayed well, then the church will function well and the message of Christ will get out, which includes all the things we have to say about the poor, about social justice and about world events and war and peace."
Religion professor Russell Hittinger, in the William K. Warren Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, who goes to the Vatican several times a year, said Benedict had reduced his schedule in the past two years.
He said he believes Benedict resigned under a little-known canon (church) law that enables a pope to resign if it is done freely and if it is properly manifested.
"I'm quite sure, seeing his health was not allowing him to fulfill his duties adequately, he wanted to make sure he did it the right way, according to Canon 332.2," Hittinger said.
He said Benedict will be remembered as a man who "did not want to be elected pope, because he was getting old, but accepted the election and spent the eight years of his papacy cleaning up the mess of the priest scandal and mess of the Vatican bank."
"He was looking forward to good retirement, and they elect him pope, and he had to take care of all these difficult problems. ... I think he did quite fine," Hittinger said.
He said Benedict always gave the impression of being "most gentle, not the life of the party, by any means, but very gentle and attentive to whomever he was around."
Monsignor Patrick Gaalaas, pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, said that though Pope John Paul II was more charismatic, Benedict was in some ways more inspirational.
It has been said that "people went to Rome to see John Paul II, and now they go to Rome to hear Pope Benedict XVI," Gaalaas said.
"What he had to say was extremely important, and they knew that."
He said Benedict was a great defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and opponent of moral relativism.
"He was always a gentle, fair-minded man, but the liberal press called him various demeaning things. He was made out to be controversial," Gaalaas said. "He had a bad reputation among liberal-leaning Catholics, but more Orthodox Catholics were fiercely loyal to him."
Sartorius said Benedict got some "push back" from progressives for standing firm on his position that though the world's values may be changing, God's truths do not change.
But he always communicated those positions with "no hardness - he was a very loving person," Sartorius said.
He said Benedict's humility in stepping down should serve as an example to other world leaders who are clinging to power with disastrous results.
Sartorius said Benedict's first encyclical, titled "God is Love," set the tone for his papacy and will stand for hundreds of years for its insight into how the church should interact with the world.
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398