Catholics across Long Island, including their spiritual leader, Bishop William Murphy, reacted with surprise and even shock Monday to Pope Benedict XVI's decision to retire, but many also praised the move as farsighted and courageous.
"It was out of the clear blue," said Lee Marshall, 76, as she walked into a noon Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. But, "I think if he feels he is not up to the job, he is doing the right thing. Most people won't admit decline."
But, McCarthy added, "It's certainly the right thing to do. He's probably trying to make a step in the right direction for a more forward-looking church."
Troy Baydala, 66, a parishioner at St. Agnes, said the pope's decision to step down was "courageous."
Murphy, spiritual leader of the 1.4 million Roman Catholics in the Diocese of Rockville Centre and a Vatican insider, said he was stunned by the news.
Murphy said he learned of the pope's decision early Monday morning as he went through his typical routine of checking the Italian press before his morning prayers. He saw headlines such as "flash" and "alarme" and called friends at the Vatican, including two stunned cardinals who had just left a meeting with the pope and confirmed the news.
Murphy said he called Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York, who asked, " 'Is it true?' I said 'Yes.' "
Murphy's voice trembled briefly as he read the English translation of the pope's letter to journalists at the parish center of St. Agnes Cathedral.
"I have a very, very deep love for the man," Murphy said, his voice trembling again. He added that he regarded the pope "with great gratitude."
"He has the great gift of saying profound things simply and beautifully, in a way people can understand them," Murphy said.
Dolan himself has been mentioned by some as a possible candidate to be the next pope.
Monday, outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, Anna Ballantyne, 55, of Rio de Janeiro, said she and her friends were taken aback by Benedict XVI's sudden announcement. "Now we'll have to see who becomes the next pope," Ballantyne said.
Phyllis Zagano, a senior research associate at Hofstra University, said she doubted Dolan will become pope, and that odds are it will be a European.
Rosario Bucalo, an immigrant from the Philippines who attends Mass at Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream, said Benedict should have remained in his post. "I'm sad and surprised," she said. "He should stay forever," until he dies, like most other popes.
But Sister Mary Hughes, prioress of the Dominican Sisters in Amityville, said, the pope's decision "is one that required wisdom, humility and courage. The decision reflects his deep love for the Church."
With Joseph Mallia
and Igor Kossov