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Area priests share thoughts on pope's resignation

Father Don Wagner, leader for the parishes of St. Ann in Wadena and St. John the Baptist in Bluffton. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

The Pope's recent decision to step down may have startled some, but local priests are taking it in stride, saying he made the right call when he left for health reasons.

Father Don Wagner, who serves as pastor for St. Ann's Catholic Church in Wadena and the parish of St. John the Baptist in Bluffton, said he thought his leg was being pulled when a fellow priest first told him of the pope's resignation.

"The first initial thing was just surprise in hearing it," Wagner said.

"However, when I thought about it, I thought, 'I can respect that. I can respect that.' I mean, he's in his mid- eighties, and my gosh, to have that responsibility of shepherding the universal church."

Wagner said he thought the pope's decision must have come after much prayer and careful thought. He also complimented Benedict for having the courage to announce his resignation and set a new precedent for the future.

Bishop John Kinney of the Saint Cloud Diocese has been Wagner's main talking partner about the situation. Wagner said he's used the pope's resignation as reason for some friendly ribbing of the bishop because coincidentally, Kinney is retiring as well - but the appointment of a new bishop has to be approved in Rome by the Holy Father himself first.

"I said, 'This might be putting some things on hold a little bit for you,'" Wagner recalled.

Wagner said he's been following the search for a new pope, but refused to speculate on who he thought might assume the post next. He said the important question was not whether the new pope will be traditionalist or progressive, but if they can tackle the issues of the present moment.

"We always believe it's about what needs to be done in the church today," Wagner said. "Who is the leader that is going to be called forth of the specific needs of the church today?"

Father Matthew Kuhn of St. Henry's parish in Perham and the Church of St. Mary in Butler described only mild surprise when he first learned of Pope Benedict's resignation.

"He's been talking about it for years. Even before he was Pope, he mentioned the possibility and how hypothetically he would keep it as an option," Kuhn said. "Just having seen his health decline over recent years, I'm not surprised at the timing either."

Kuhn spoke positively of the decision, saying Benedict had the best interest of the church in mind. He said his parishioners were surprised at the news, but didn't let it affect their everyday lives.

"There's some surprise ... but I think most folks don't spend too much time thinking about it," he said.