The Rev. Paul McManus was sound asleep when the phone rang early yesterday morning.
“I was woken up by a Hispanic member of the community,” said McManus, who celebrates the Spanish masses at Catholic churches in Peabody and Salem.
“The pope is resigning,” the excited caller said.
“No, he isn’t,” replied the priest, who was barely awake and couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
McManus wasn’t the only person who reacted with disbelief to the shocking news that Pope Benedict XVI plans to resign at the end of the month — and with good reason. It has not happened in 600 years.
“Stunned,” said the Rev. John Sheridan, pastor of St. James Church in Salem. “I am just as stunned as everyone else.”
Pope Benedict, 85, who took office in 2005, said “advanced age” and ill health prevent him from continuing to lead the world’s 1 billion Catholics.
Although it’s a dramatic break with tradition, the pope may be doing what is best for the church, several local Catholics said.
“It was unusual, there’s no question about it,” said Thaddeus Buczko of Salem, a retired judge who was close to the pontiff’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
“If it’s a medical situation, then I think he’s saving everyone the problem of what we do if we have a person not able to carry out his duties and responsibilities. ... He’s taking the initiative.”
There was speculation that Benedict, longtime head of an office overseeing church doctrine, had watched John Paul struggle with ill health and did not want the church to go through another difficult transition.
“He saw his good friend’s ... demise, and much of church governance fell on his shoulders while the pope was incapacitated, so I’m sure this had an influence,” said McManus.