Benedict becomes first pope in 600 years to resign

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Pope Benedict XVI has become the first pope in 600 years to resign, ending an eight-year pontificate shaped by struggles to move the church past sex abuse scandals and to reawaken Christianity in an indifferent world.

The Swiss Guards standing at attention in Castel Gandolfo shut the gates of the palazzo shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday (2 p.m. EST), symbolically closing the doors on a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended - a resignation instead of a death.

In a final farewell to his cardinals as pope, Benedict tried to dispel concerns about the unprecedented future awaiting the Catholic Church, with one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side. He pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor.

Pope Benedict XVI's resignation stunned many, but not Archbishop Joseph Tobin of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.  Tobin knows Benedict well.  He worked in and around the Vatican for 20 years and often met with the future Pope when Benedict was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Tobin had a leadership position with his order, Redemptorist Fathers, and met with then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger on a regular basis to discuss issues of doctrine.

"He has a highly refined sense of duty," said the Archbishop of the Pope, "and I think that's one of the admirable qualities of Germans, you know."  

Tobin believes that it was that sense of duty that led the Pontiff to accept the call from his fellow Cardinals to take the Papacy in 2005 at the age of 77 -- just as physical challenges led him to leave it now: "I think that sense of duty kicked in once again and he said this is what I have to do, even though it hasn't been done in almost 600 years."

Ironically, one of the former Pope's last official acts was appointing Archbishop Tobin to the Indianapolis Archdiocese, where he is spiritual leader to about 250,000 Catholics in 147 parishes in Central and Southern Indiana. 

The local church installed Tobin as the sixth Archbishop on December 3, 2012.  Less than three months later, he is shepherding his flock through a transition at the very top of Catholic hierarchy.  He says he understands the uncertainty that comes with change, especially in matter of faith:

"Even at the Parish level, the changing of the pastor is always the most traumatic experience of the parish," said Tobin.  He believes a change at the Vatican takes on even greater importance: "I think there is some anxiousness, not only about the Holy father, but also the worldwide circumstances of the church," he said, "You know, we take that stuff seriously, but that stuff doesn't have the final word."

He is calling on his flock to have faith that God is in control of the process, and to pray, saying, "I've asked all the parishes to, first to pray in gratitude for Pope Benedict, but also to pray that those electing his successor will be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit -- and do the right thing."

The College of Cardinals is charged with choosing the next Pope. They will come together in the Sistine Chapel soon to begin the process known as "conclave." 

Church law calls for the meetings to begin in 15 to 20 days, but before leaving, Pope Benedict waived the 15-day waiting period so that the work could begin sooner. 

There are practical considerations.  Palm Sunday is March 24th.  If the Cardinals meet earlier, the next Pope could be in place by then to preside over Holy Week services.  Tradition says that Pope will come from the pool of Cardinals, but technically, any Catholic man is eligible.

As for who could be in line to be the 267th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Tobin is not about to take a guess.  He cites an old Italian proverb:

"The one who goes into the conclave as Pope, comes out as a Cardinal." 

Instead of trying to handicap the process, Archbishop Tobin is putting his faith, simply in 'faith': "It's really a way of looking at life and seeing more than meets the eye -- and the moral, we believe is the presence of God and the guidance of Holy Spirit."

Vatican website