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Papal transition won’t lead to big changes in South Florida parishes, archbishop says

Like millions of other Roman Catholics, when Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski woke up Monday morning and heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI had announced his resignation, he thought it was just rumor.

When he realized it wasn’t, Wenski called Mary Ross Agosta, the Archdiocese’s communications director, and told her: “ ‘Get ready for a busy day.’ ’’

And so it was, as he gave interview after interview on how the pope’s resignation — the first in nearly six centuries — might affect the Church and its believers.

Wenski doesn’t anticipate “radical shifts’’ in the church with a new leader at the helm.

“Whoever comes on as pope will be Catholic, so...he’ll present the Catholic teachings and there’s not going to be any changes in those teachings, because the pope is not an absolute ruler who can make it up as he goes along,’’ Wenski said.

Still, he said, “most people live their faith on a local level,’’ so that a papal transition isn’t likely to shake things up in South Florida parishes.

Wenski, 62, said he understood how demanding the pontifical duties are.

“When the pope says he doesn’t have the strength anymore, considering my own schedule in this little archdiocese, I get it. It’s a grueling job...He embraced the suffering that comes with the job but he doesn’t have the physical health and energy to continue it.

“His doctors have been telling him to restrict his travel, and the ability to travel has become a requisite for a modern-day pope.’’

Anne Llewellyn of Plantation, a parishioner at St. Gregory the Great, applauded the pope for understanding his limitations and for making “the difficult decision for the good of the church.’’

She called Benedict “a brilliant man’’ who deserves thanks for his leadership. However, she remains “angry with the U.S. Church’’ over sex scandal cover-ups, and no longer supports the archdiocese.

Barry University theology professor Edward Sunshine acknowledged the pope’s resignation comes at a time when the church sex-abuse scandals ”have weakened the moral authority and credibility of church leaders,’’ and when 10 percent of U.S. adults identify as former Catholics.

By bowing out, Sunshine added, the pope “is setting a modern precedent that is necessary for the church to function well in the world today.”

With people living longer — Pope Benedict XVI is 85, his predecessor Pope John Paul II was 84 when he died after 27 years as head of the church — there is an increased chance of someone suffering from a debilitating condition, such as infirmity or senility, Sunshine said.

“An orderly transition of church leadership if necessary is much better than a long, agonizing wait for an infirm pontiff to die in office,” Sunshine said. “Pope Benedict has set an example for world leaders and everyone else that there comes a time when it is better to let go of power.’’

When it comes to Benedict’s successor, Karen McCarthy, of Hollywood, is hoping for someone more moderate. She’s angry about certain church positions, and no longer attends Church of the Little Flower

“The Vatican has treated women horribly, like we are less than men,’’ she said. “What they have done to the nuns is repulsive...I hope we get a more moderate pope and one in tune with the times.’’

Archbishop Wenski said he doubted Pope Benedict XVI would interfere with his successor once he leaves the post Feb. 28.

“There’s still going to be only one pope, and I don’t think there’s any danger of any polarities of power, one against another.’’

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