Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Southern Tier Catholics say they understand Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he will resign as the church's leader at the end of the month.
Benedict, who is 85, said Monday morning he was no longer physically or mentally able to lead the Roman Catholic Church. And with the lent season approaching, some priests say the load of services and ceremonies could be too much.
"He didn't want to be a burden for the church," said Father Tim Taugher, of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. "He felt he was aging and felt it's time for a transition for leadership that can meet the challenges."
Benedict's announcement came with little warning, surprising even some of those closest to him. Some Southern Tier Catholics say the decision could be for the best.
"I give him credit," Taugher said. "I think what we saw with John Paul II aging and his frail health, I think it was sad to see. I think Pope Benedict just wanted not to go through that sort of thing so soon after John Paul II."
Students at Seton Catholic Central also praised the Pope's decision.
"It takes a lot of courage to make that decision to step down," said junior Rachel Polman. "But he knows it's for the good of the people to have a pope who will be able to lead them to different times."
"He was a Pope of changing times," said junior Liam Fontaine. "As things advanced more and more there's not much he could have done to make a huge impression, but I think he did do a very good job for the changing times and everything."
Benedict is the first pope to voluntarily step down in nearly 700 years. Celestine V resigned in 1294. Gregory XII resigned centuries later to help end the Great Schism, in which multiple popes claimed power. Gregory XII died in 1417.
Father Don Bourgeois of the St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Endicott said Benedict's legacy likely won't be as strong as his predecessor, John Paul II.
"I think he will be remembered as a man who succeeded a very charismatic pope, John Paul II, who was pope a long time," said Bourgeois. "And I think Benedict will be remembered as someone who did it his way even following in the footsteps of someone as charismatic as John Paul II."
Benedict's papacy will likely be marred by scandal, namely several investigations into sexual abuse of children and a butler who leaked his personal documents to the media.
His firm stances on issues, largely falling on the conservative side of the scale, could be considered divisive, Bourgeois said.
"We live in a world that tends to be divided--liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, and so on and so forth," he said. "So I think there's always division in any element of society, including religion."
Benedict will officially step down Feb. 28. The Vatican hopes to elect a replacement by Easter.
A conclave of Cardinals will begin voting 15-20 days after the resignation, casting a maximum of four ballots per day.
Any baptized Roman Catholic male is eligible to be pope, but only cardinals have been selected since 1378.