The primate of the Anglican Church of Canada today paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI, who stunned the world by announcing his resignation because of advancing age and deteriorating strength.
“I admire Pope Benedict’s courage and grace in stepping down, recognizing his increasingly diminished stamina to carry out his ministry as bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Communion throughout the world,” said Archbishop Fred Hiltz in a statement. “…I believe his decision is the mark of a true pastor, of one who so loves the church that when he recognizes his incapacity to lead with the strength he once had, is prepared to step aside and make way for new leadership.”
In a statement on Vatican Radio’s website, the 85-year-old Pope said he will resign on Feb. 28. His resignation is the first in nearly 600 years in the Roman Catholic Church, which has a membership of 1.2 billion worldwide.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” said the Pontiff.
The world today is “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” and requires from a leader “both strength of mind and body,” he added.
In a phone interview, Hiltz cited the Pope’s “hospitality,” his willingness to engage in dialogue and his messages about reconciliation, non-violent ways of resolving issues and caring for the earth as some of his lasting contributions.
“Pope Benedict’s public support of ongoing dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics has never wavered,” added Archdeacon Bruce Myers, the Anglican Church of Canada’s co-ordinator for ecumenical relations. “Even when the Anglican Communion’s recent struggles around human sexuality threatened to drive our two churches further apart, his response wasn’t to break off relations, but rather to insist on the continuation of formal dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics. He called it ‘a matter of urgency.’ ”
Myers said this was the reason why the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) is “still very much alive and at work.” (ARCIC promotes visible unity between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. It was established in 1967 by Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI.)
The dialogue continues despite tensions, including some arising from Pope Benedict’s decision in 2009 to create a personal ordinariate that would allow former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic church while retaining some elements of their Anglicanism.
Both Hiltz and Myers noted the role that the personal relationship between the Pope and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had in furthering Anglican-Roman Catholic relations worldwide.
“Their abiding friendship in Christ was an inspiration to the continuing work of ecumenical dialogue and the deep desire of our churches to grow together in faith and unity the service of the gospel,” said Hiltz.
Myers said it is “fortuitous” that both Rome and Canterbury will welcome new leaders at nearly the same time.
The primate urged Anglicans to pray for the Pope and for Catholics worldwide as they undergo this transition. “It is at moments like this that we realize how very connected we are in the body of Christ, as holy wisdom marks the Pope’s decision to step down,” said Hiltz.