The Roman Catholic community in Quebec was shaken by news that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to resign from his position as leader of the Roman Catholic Church as of Feb. 28.
Benedict, 85, announced his resignation today, stating old age and health issues as reasons for his departure.
Bishop Thomas Dowd, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal, said he was "surprised" by the Pope's decision.
"It certainly shows the Pope is making a gutsy move. There hasn't been a Pope who has resigned in several hundred years," he said.
The last pontiff to quit in office was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
Father Ernie Schibli, a priest at Saint-Edward the Confessor Mission in Pointe-Claire, said the news came "as a real shock."
"At the time of his taking over the papacy … he did mention that he would resign if he felt that he couldn't handle it," he said.
Dowd said the Pope most likely decided to step down to allow for an orderly transition between pontiffs.
"I really would want to know what his reasons were, but I would find it hard to believe that he wouldn't have good ones," he said.
Schibli said the Pope's decision is a "courageous move" if he felt he could no longer handle his duties.
However, Schibli said he not always seen eye to eye with the Pope on some of his theological decisions.
"Having said that, he is the Holy Father and he has done the best he can in the relatively short time that he's been Pope."
Dowd said the Pope's job is conservative by definition because it requires him to maintain the Catholic faith and make sure it is handed down from one generation to the next.
"I also believe that this Pope has taken gutsy moves for reform in the Church. For example, he very greatly strengthened church rules regarding sex abuse … He made it much easier for the Church to use corrective measures in that area. Those are internal policies, but ones that have echoes throughout the world," he said.
Two high-ranking members of Quebec's Roman Catholic institution will be part of the conclave that will pick a new man to succeed to 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Jean-Claude Turcotte, a retired archbishop of Montreal, will be among the three Canadians to join in the formalities.
Ouellet is the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops and is also seen as a contender for the role of leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Two British oddmakers have already predicted Ouellet will be in the lead ahead of Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna for Benedict's succession.
In an interview with the Catholic news organization Salt + Light TV published online last April, Ouellet was asked whether he had hopes of becoming pope.
"I don't see myself at this level, not at all ... because I see how much it entails [in terms of] responsibility," he said. "On the other hand, I say I believe that the Holy Spirit will help the cardinals do a good choice for the leadership of the church, the Catholic Church, in the future."
Retired monsignor and former Chancellor of the diocese of Quebec, Jean Pelletier, said he doubts Ouellet will be taking over the role of Holy Father.
"I don't think his chances are very good," he said. "You see, we have to remember that the Pope is not elected by journalists or by betting agencies. He's elected by cardinals."
Pelletier said though Ouellet's duty as a cardinal entailed naming new bishops, his position among the clergy would not necessarily work in his favour if he were to seek the Pope's role.
"The Holy See is a quagmire of intrigue so it's very easy to make enemies there. And, lets not forget that the Pope is elected by cardinals, not by bishops and archbishops," said Pelletier.
Cardinals below the age of 80 will congregate at the Sistine Chapel to pick the new Roman Catholic leader before Easter.