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St. Louis Clergy React to Pope's Resignation

As news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation spreads, former parish priest Cardinal Timothy Dolan of Ballwin is one name being discussed as the next possible pope.

The surprise announcement this morning that Pope Benedict XVI would resign the papacy at the end of the month immediately brought to mind the name of perhaps the most powerful Catholic in the United States as a possible successor.

Ballwin native and archbishop of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New York,  when the College of Cardinals meets in March to choose the next pope.

Local clergy shared their thoughts on Monday's news within the Catholic Church with Patch.

"We are praying for all of the Cardinals in the Church as they prepare for the important selection process," Rev. Edward Stanger with Ballwin's Holy Infant Catholic Church stated in a news release. "We are especially grateful and proud that Cardinal Dolan, one of the sons of our parish, will be participating in this historic moment in the life of the Church."

"My only thoughts are very simple at this moment. I am grateful that Pope Benedict is letting the Holy Spirit guide his life. He may set a new tradition of a pope spending his later years enjoying friends and family and letting go of life on this earth. What a healthy way to prepare for eternal life," Fr. John Brennell from St. Monica Church in Creve Coeur stated to Patch in an email.

Fr. Bob Reiker at Mary Queen of Peace in Webster Groves said he had to pinch himself when he heard the news Monday. He wasn't surprised by the fact that Pope Benedict resigned, but was surprised at the timing. Fr. Reiker shared the news with his congregation in mass Monday morning and offered his prayers. He said parishioners were asking what's next in the process and if Pope Benedict would be involved in selecting a successor. As for an American Cardinal getting elevated? Fr Reiker said he didn't think it was likely, but also added that nobody thought there would be a Polish Pope until John Paul II was named.

Fr. Tom Santen, pastor at St. Joseph's Parish in Manchester, also expressed surprise about the announcement, noting that it was the first time in centuries that a Pope has resigned. The move creates a degree of uncertainty for the Catholic Church.

"There's no precedent for how to you treat a retired pope and what do you do with his authority," he said. "It will be interesting to see how the Church works through all of that."

Santen also reflected on the legacy that Benedict will leave behind. On one hand, he said the most recent pontiff struggled to overcome the shadow of his charismatic predecessor, Pope John Paul II, but he predicted Benedict's theological writings will stand the test of time. 

"He was really a world-class theologian," Santen said. "His writings were well-respected because he brought the expertise of a theologian with the teaching authority of the Pope."

In recent years, most discussions of the Catholic Church have been dominated by the priest sex abuse scandal and the subsequent cover-ups by some Bishops. Victim's rights advocates have called his record on this subject mixed, noting a lack of punishment for suspected priests despite Benedict's public acknowledgement of the scandal and meeting with victims.

In Santen's opinion, Benedict took "strong steps in the right direction" toward addressing the tragedy, but said there is still much more that needs to be done. 

The questions will soon turn from Benedict to his eventual successor. Santen said the Church's next leader will need to be someone who can be in touch with the international scene and able to make an impact in the areas of the world, such as Africa and Asia, where the Catholic Church is growing. 

Santen himself visited China last year and was amazed at the passion that he saw. 

"I think the Catholic Church in China had 100,000 converts last year," he said.

Chester Gillis, Georgetown University, an expert on the U.S. Catholic Church, the history of Catholicism, and the papacy, was interviewed on the CBS Morning News and said he does see Dolan as a real possibility for the open position.

NBC News said Dolan was a "longshot" for the papacy. The news network quoted Dolan on its world news blog saying he was "startled" and "anxious" about the news.

"Except for prayer, I don’t know what else to do," he said. "I’ll await instruction with everyone else."

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*Local Editors Frank Johnson and Gregg Palermo contributed to this report.

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