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Catholics across Beaufort County, like those across the world, were stunned to learn Monday of Pope Benedict XVI's plans to resign.
"I was shocked. But I can understand if he is, as it came out in the news, if he is failing physically, and I guess there was some mention about his mental capacity to handle the job," said Joe Hagan, parishioner at Holy Family Catholic Church on Hilton Head Island. "These are two things that I fully understand."
Benedict announced that his last day would be Feb. 28. It has been 600 years since the last papal resignation, by Pope Gregory XII in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston has issued a statement in support of Benedict's decision. Leaders at local parishes deferred to the bishop when sought for comment.
"Pope Benedict XVI spent his papacy sharing his love of God and love of Church with the Catholic Faithful around the world," according to the statement. "His resignation today is an outward sign of that love. On behalf of the Diocese of Charleston, I wish to thank Pope Benedict for his years of leadership as Shepherd of the Catholic Church."
The Diocese of Charleston comprises the entire state of South Carolina.
Guglielmone said he was part of a group that met with Benedict in May and discussed the growth of the Province of Atlanta and social media.
"During the meeting, Pope Benedict seemed physically tired; he wore the expression of an 85-year-old man dealing with his age," the statement said. "However, he was emotionally animated especially when the conversation shifted to the use of technology."
Benedict was elected in 2005 at age 78, the oldest pope in almost three centuries.
Arlene Porter, member of St. Peter Catholic Church in Beaufort, was surprised by the decision because "we see the Holy Father as being very active despite his age." But she can understand why he would want to step down.
"He obviously thought it was the right step for him and our church," she said. "I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision, and I'm sure that he didn't do it without a lot of thought and prayer."
Gerry Kelly, member of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton, said Benedict was smart to resign when he felt he was struggling.
"As other popes got old, maybe others were doing the work," she said. "As someone who has been around the block quite a while, in today's world you have to be able to keep up with things."
Kelly has faith that the next pope will be the right choice. Calling herself a "cradle Catholic," she said the resignation will not shake her religious foundation.
Benedict appointed Guglielmone bishop of the diocese in 2009, and the bishop said it has been "a privilege and an honor" to serve.
"During this time of transition, I ask for your prayers for Pope Benedict XVI and for the worldwide Church," the bishop's statement said. "I also ask you to pray that the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom on the College of Cardinals as it meets in the coming weeks to elect a new Pope."