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Stockton bishop, University of the Pacific professor weigh in on pope’s decision to resign

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Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 12:00 am

Stockton Diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire praised Pope Benedict XVI for his spiritual leadership and wished him the best in his retirement.

"I join my voice with those of the Catholic people around the world in acknowledging with immense gratitude to God the spiritual leadership of Pope Benedict XVI," Blaire said in a prepared statement. "As the successor of Peter the Apostle, he has served the church as an extraordinary pastor, teacher and witness of the gospel. May God grant him comfort, joy and restful time in his retirement."

As bishop, Blaire oversees parishes in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Calaveras and Alpine counties.

Brian Klunk, political science chairman at University of the Pacific and an authority on Catholicism, said Monday that the pope's role might change.

"What happened (Monday) really is a break from the past," Klunk said in a phone interview. "The pope is treating the position like it's a job and not a role that you play. Compare him to the last pope, who really saw the position as a persona and filled that role."

Klunk said it's been the Catholic Church's understanding that God determined who would be pope and that the pope would continue in that capacity for the rest of his life. However, after seeing the late Pope John Paul II decline, Pope Benedict observed that John Paul was becoming unable to continue his duties in his final years, Klunk said.

Religious, or canon, law says very little about papal resignation, Klunk said. There are unofficial roles for former presidents of the United States, such as Jimmy Carter pursuing human rights around the world, and Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush teaming up to seek contributions for Hurricane Katrina and tsunami victims.

However, there are no roles for retired popes, Klunk said. There hasn't been one in more than 500 years.

"What is different for this (papal) election is there isn't a funeral to attend," he said.

Pope Benedict's retirement may spur a change in who will be selected as pope in the future, Klunk said.

"It may be an inclination to look for someone younger," he said.

Another question leading cardinals may explore is whether to pick someone with experience within the Vatican or someone from outside the Vatican. Leading candidates for the next pope could be from Africa or Latin America, Klunk said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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