POPE Benedict’s announcement to stand down caught Roman Catholic clergy by surprise — including Warrnambool’s Father Lawrie O’Toole, who described himself as a “huge fan”.
The east Warrnambool parish priest, who attended a Mass and prayer service conducted by the Pope at the World Youth Day in Sydney four years ago, has all the pontiff’s recent books.
“I saw the breaking newsflash come up as I was watching Q&A on television,” Fr O’Toole told The Standard.
“I was surprised and saddened. He was a very unique and wonderful man who had an amazing output and great clarity of mind.
“I love savouring his theology and appreciation of scriptural scholarship, prayer and liturgy.”
Fr O’Toole and fellow Warrnambool parish priest Fr John Fitzgerald said it was a wise decision for the 85-year-old German-born pontiff to resign in the face of failing health.
He becomes the first Pope to stand down since the Middle Ages. The decision becomes effective on February 28.
When asked for comment on a suitable successor, Fr O’Toole said it may not necessarily go to a younger person to carry the onerous task for many years, but to an older cleric with health and energy.
Father Fitzgerald thought Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was past his prime and, using the analogy of a football team, said Cardinal Pell didn’t have the pace.
“If I was a betting man I’d have him at three-figure odds,” he said.
“We need a leader to take us from our present position to a much more prophetic and healthy church.
“It would be a radical change, but good to have someone from the Asian, African or South American nations.”