Taoiseach pays tribute to Pope's 'strong leadership'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI today following the pontiff's decision to resign.

The Taoiseach said the pontiff’s decision to leave his role at the head of the Catholic Church made it an historic day.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Ireland, I would like to extend best wishes to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI following his declaration today that he intends to step down from his office,” he said.

“This is clearly a decision which the Holy Father has taken following careful consideration and deep prayer and reflection.

“It reflects his profound sense of duty to the Church, and also his deep appreciation of the unique pressures of spiritual leadership in the modern world.”

The Taoiseach said the Pope has given strong leadership and great service to the Church.

Pope Benedict, 85, will leave on February 28 after nearly eight years in office.

He is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years and the decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new Pope before the end of March.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the Pope's decision to resign was courageous.

“Who knows how long he has to live? Only himself and his advisers know that,” Archbishop Martin said.

“But to do this, shows he has that interior freedom within himself.”

Archbishop Martin, one of the highest ranking members of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said Pope Benedict would be remembered for his contribution to theology.

He said he had a “quiet sense of humour”, but was much happier writing books and preaching.

“His homilies were astonishing. He would speak without notes for 45 minutes, which is maybe a bit long for our standards,” Archbishop Martin said.

He also praised the freedom Pope Benedict showed in speaking out against the “filth” in the Catholic Church regarding recent sex abuse scandals.

“He talked about the filth that is in the life of the Church,” Archbishop Martin said.

“That isn’t the language of diplomacy – it is the language of someone who is free.”

He also insisted the Pope had put procedures in place to combat clerical abuse.

“When he became pope, certainly the procedures in the Vatican and the statistics changed substantially, and a clearer line was taken,” the Church leader said.

President Michael D Higgins said he had written to the Pope expressing his good wishes on his decision to retire.

“In his letter, President Higgins acknowledged the scholarship and personal commitment that Pope Benedict brought to his leadership of the Roman Catholic community over the past eight years and wished him every peace and fulfilment in his retirement,” the president’s office said in a statement.

The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Pope had put world peace at the top of his agenda and praised his numerous overseas visits.

“Like most people in the country and particularly Catholics in Ireland and around the world, my immediate concern is for the Pope’s health and I want to wish him well in his retirement,” Mr Gilmore said.

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