The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign for health reasons effective Feb. 28 "was both a surprise and not a surprise," Msgr. James Mahoney of Corpus Christi Church said.
"It was a surprise because we are not used to a pope resigning. But it was not a surprise because he clearly has been getting more frail," Mahoney said Monday.
Pope Benedict's decision to step down makes him the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign. When the College of Cardinals elects a new pope in conclave, the election is usually for life.
"The demands of the papacy take a huge toll. In my opinion, this was a great act of humility on the part of Pope Benedict. He cared more about the good of the Church than he did about himself. That is a testimony to his goodness," Mahoney said.
Now 85, Pope Benedict has served as the religious leader of millions for nearly eight years. Both before and after his election as pope he held up bans against divorce, birth control, stem cell research, gay marriage, married priests, female priests and homosexuality.
He also expressed shame at clerical sex abuse, including once on a trip to the U.S., and made overtures to the Jewish community in the U.S. and in Germany. His first foreign trip from the Vatican was to Germany, where he visited a synagogue. When he visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul he prayed next to a Muslim cleric.
Pope Benedict was elected on April 19, 2005. Born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927 in Bavaria, he was the first German pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church since the 11th century.
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.
The College of Cardinals is expected to convene to elect a new pope.