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Originally published February 11, 2013 at 9:23 PM | Page modified February 12, 2013 at 9:28 PM

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Pope’s resignation brings divided reactions from Northwest Catholics

The surprise announcement Monday that Pope Benedict XVI will resign at the end of the month drew wide-ranging views from local Catholics about his legacy and the challenges his successor will confront.

Seattle Times staff reporter


A mother of 10, Kathleen Kennedy embraces the traditional values of the Roman Catholic Church and so admires Pope Benedict XVI, she named her 3-year-old son in his honor.

Each Sunday, her family drives the hour or so from their home in Arlington to the Church of the North American Martyrs, which holds services in Ballard and where Mass is performed only in Latin.

“I think everyone will look back and say this was a pope who was unwavering in defining traditional teachings of the church,” Kennedy said.

Barbara Guzzo, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church in Seattle, who headed Catholics for Marriage Equality in Washington to help win the right of gays to marry, believes the church needs to soften its hard-line position on a range of social issues.

“My sense is that our church is not moving forward as much as it’s standing in place or moving backward,” Guzzo said.

The announcement Monday that Benedict, because of advanced age, would resign at the end of this month drew wide-ranging reactions from local Catholics about his legacy and the challenges that await his successor.

The state is home to an estimated 1 million Roman Catholics.

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who was appointed by Benedict, said in a statement, “We are losing a pastor whose papacy has been marked, not only by his profound fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith, but also [by] his humble and gentle nature.”

For many Catholics, selection of Benedict’s replacement will be a significant development in the ongoing tug of war between traditionalists in the church and those who want to see more liberal reforms.

Father Stephen Sundborg, president of Seattle University, a Jesuit institution, believes Benedict will be remembered as a profound thinker and reflective theologian.

His successor, expected to be chosen by Easter (March 31), will have to traverse the myriad and different cultural divides within the global church, Sundborg said.

“I think the biggest challenge for the next pope will be how to engage modern, contemporary cultures of the world and present a clear message of what Christianity is for them,” he said.

Guzzo is among a large number of liberal U.S. parishioners who believe the 85-year-old pontiff’s strong conservative positions did little to move the church from traditional complacency — particularly on issues such as contraception, abortion, religious freedom and gay rights.

In fact, they believe the church has grown more conservative since the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council half a century ago and that such leanings are likely to continue under Benedict’s successor.

Pat Callahan, who heads a group of priests who have resigned, said mandatory celibacy is keeping many from the priesthood, and because of a chronic priest shortage here in the United States, “you are seeing on the pulpit more and more men from other cultures with restrictive ability to speak English.”

And while church leaders put their energy behind efforts like opposing gay marriage and contraception, he said, “ ... tons of poor and vulnerable people are without medical care.”

Such thorny issues will be the challenge for the new pope.

Guzzo said while she’s hopeful a new pope will move forward on social issues, she’s not optimistic.

“In reality, because this pope had a hand in choosing the cardinals who will select his successor, there’s not much likelihood they would choose that kind of leader.”

Kennedy and other supporters of traditional Catholic positions applaud Benedict for adhering to the teachings of the church.

She said Benedict “fearlessly” stood up against things like same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception — that are in direct contradiction of church teachings.

His successor will need “a lot of energy, strength and courage,” she said. “When you’re leading people spiritually, you need the courage to declare right and wrong, especially in a modern world.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or On Twitter @turnbullL.