The bells at Salt Lake City's majestic Cathedral of the Madeleine rang out precisely at noon Thursday, marking the historic end of Benedict XVI's eight-year papacy.
The sonorous instruments tolled neither in mourning nor in rejoicing, said Utah's Bishop John C. Wester, but just to note the beginning of this unexpected transition the first time in 600 years a papal seat has been vacated while the pope is still alive.
"I have mixed feelings," Wester said. "It's always hard to say goodbye, and I am fond of this pope. But this is also a moment of opportunity where the Holy Spirit could work in the church. It brings an air of anticipation and optimism as we look to the future."
Benedict, now the 85-year-old pope emeritus, will be remembered for his three encyclicals on Christian love, hope and truth, the leader of Utah's 300,000 Catholics said, and as "more pastoral and not so professorial as people expected."
The Rev. Samuel Dinsdale, pastor at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele, appreciated the retiring pope's evangelization efforts and his critique of a pervasive apathy toward religion.
Mary Jane Morris, a Catholic convert of 10 years who attends Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Salt Lake City, praised the pope's "reaching out to individuals who have been harmed by members of the clergy."
Child sex abuse has "left a dark stain on our Catholic Church," Morris wrote in an email. "I believe that Pope Benedict has been instrumental by beginning a healing process for both victims of abuse and the faithful of the church."
Rosemary Baron, a hospital chaplain, appreciated the outgoing pope's emphasis on "the need to renew our faith, study our faith and act on our faith … embracing new ways of making the faith of all Catholics come alive."
By breaking with the tradition of serving to the end of his life, the pope sent an important message to the church, said Andrew Odoardi, a former high school teacher and principal who attended a special Mass for the pontiff Thursday at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center in Salt Lake City. "He is challenging people to be more dramatic in how they respond to circumstances today. It was a symbolic way to say, 'We have to do things differently.' "
Benedict's successor will face huge challenges in leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, several Utah members said.
They mentioned growing polarization over social issues within the faith, a diminished church in Europe and an expanding one in Africa and South America, fewer priest candidates, the need for more effective use of the media, a burgeoning bureaucracy and an ongoing clergy sex-abuse crisis.
"The church needs to be vigilant [on abuse], looking at the cause and effect and continually address it," Wester said. "This is a worldwide issue, not just in the U.S. We cannot be lulled into a false sense of complacency."
Baron would like Benedict's successor to be "young and energetic," she wrote in an email, "open to speaking with the common person no matter what the nation (not sheltered as popes traditionally are); a pope who is willing to have the operations of the church be transparent (not the hideous secrets of the abuse issues); a pope who actually listens to the religious sisters, to the voice of women (not dismissing them as has happened within our own nation), a pope who will lead as the Holy Father is intended to lead."
Dinsdale wants a pontiff with "a moderate voice" who "can speak to everyone and set a course that will bring the church back together and not lead to more factions … someone with a profound understanding of the greatness of the church and a willingness to reach out to those who have a very negative opinion of it."
Morris echoes Dinsdale's sentiments, looking for a man "who can reach across country and cultural boundaries to unite Catholics as one body in Christ."
The Rev. Omar Ontiveros, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in West Valley City, would like to see "a younger pope, stronger, charismatic, but faithful to Catholic teaching; [who has] the ability to connect with youth and to encourage the faithful to witness their faith in society."
Ontiveros, who is Latino, doesn't care about the next pope's "nationality" as long as he can fulfill the office's massive responsibilities.
A new pope should convene another Vatican Council, said Odoardi, to address issues of women, celibacy and how to re-engage the faith's young people.
"I can't see how just one person," he said, "will be able to tackle all the issues himself."
Pope leaves Vatican
P Pope Benedict XVI formally ended his papacy Thursday, capping a tearful day of farewells that included a pledge of obedience to his successor. › A3