As Catholics around the world try to make sense of Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he will step down at the end of February, the Archbishop of Los Angeles addressed local parishioners at Monday's Mass.
Most Rev. Jose H. Gomez spoke about the pope's abdication during the service at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He also addressed the so-called resignation in a statement released earlier in the day:
"Pope Benedict XVI has truly been a Holy Father to the family of God, his Catholic Church. His decision to resign is a beautiful, Christ-like act of humility and love for the Church. This is the act of a saint, who thinks not about himself but only about the will of God and the good of God’s people.
"I have great affection for this Pope. In my opinion, he is one of the wisest persons in our world today. I try to learn every day from his words and example. I received my Archbishop’s pallium twice from him and I will always be grateful that he chose me to be the Archbishop of Los Angeles.
"Let us thank God today for the love and witness of Pope Benedict XVI. Let us entrust him to our Blessed Mother Mary and pray that he will continue to have joy and peace and many more years for prayer and reflection."
Some parishioners outside the church said they supported the pope's decision.
"He's over 85 years old. Priests -- they can retire too -- and popes, they can retire too. They don't have to die off. So I think it's a good thing," Joseph Melendrez said.
Parishioner Grace Brown said she was taken aback by the news that Benedict would step down Feb. 28, making him the first pope to abdicate since the Middle Ages.
"It rather shocked me. He's rather nice, but I guess he has such a burden at his age," Brown said. "He probably can't take care of anything more right now except his health."
Shortly after the pope's final day as pontiff, the church's cardinals will gather at the Vatican to elect a successor.
Among those traveling to Rome will be Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles. In the wake of the release of the clergy abuse files, Cardinal Mahony had been stripped of public and administrative duties in the archdiocese. But that does not affect his standing with Rome.
"I look forward to traveling to Rome soon to help thank Pope Benedict XVI for his gifted service to the Church, and to participate in the Conclave to elect his successor," read a statement released by the Archdiocese on behalf of Cardinal Mahony. "Surely one of his great legacies will be a continuing emphasis on the need for all Catholics to exercise their role as evangelizers in the world. His focus upon the new evangelization will continue to enliven all disciples of Christ."
Pope Benedict will return to being Cardinal Ratzinger, but will not be eligible to vote for his successor, because at age 85, he is five years over the maximum age permitted to participate.
But more than half of those in the Conclave will be there because Pope Benedict XVI elevated the to cardinal during his eight years as the Pontiff.
"That is where his real influence (on the process) will be," said the Rev. Thomas Rausch, professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University.
Rausch said 67 cardinals have been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. The other 50 were appointed previously by Pope John Paul II. But Pope Benedict has never indicated publicly who he thinks would be best qualified.
"Nobody talks about papal succession except behind closed doors," Rausch said.
Administrative skills were not the high point of Benedict's papacy, Rev. Rausch noted. But he praised the Pope's scholarship, and his outreach to victims of clergy abuse.
"He did what he could. Many people said he could have done much more, and pershaps he could have done more. But he certainly moved the church in a new direction in regards to the whole sexual abuse scandal," Rausch said. "This is a very humble man who's not in it for himself and who realized he could no longer do the job, and stepped aside for the good of the Church."
Over the past eight years, members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) had called on the Pope to do more to address the issue. Joelle Casteix does not think this was a significant factor in his decision, but does see a symbolic turning point. "I believe that his resignation is a sign that it is time for a change in the Vatican," Casteix said.
That Cardinal Mahony will participate in the Conclave, Casteix termed "absolutely inappropriate," citing what the released personnel files revealed about his efforts to conceal clergy abuse.