Utah's Roman Catholic bishop, as well as some non-Catholic religious leaders, were stunned by today's announcement that Pope Benedict the 16th will resign at the end of February.
Bishop John Wester met Benedict the 16th on a couple of occasions during his eight-year papacy and said he was always impressed by Benedict's kindness. Wester says he was also impressed by the pope's commitment to speaking the truth and by the way he confronted the most difficult issues facing the church.
"I believe, in terms of the tragic sexual abuse of minors, that the pope did a lot to help the church to face these issues squarely, to deal with them in a forthright way, to make sure there was a safe environment for children and young people," Wester told a news conference on Monday.
Steve Klemz, the pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, says the pope's resignation surprised everybody, since the last time it happened was hundreds of years ago. But he says it's a time for all Christians to remember a sense of mission.
"On Sunday," Klemz told KUER, "this congregation will be praying for our sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic church and for this amazing time of discernment."
Wester, Klemz and other religious leaders agree Benedict's successor could, for the first time, be someone from Latin America or Africa, where the Catholic church has seen its most significant growth in recent years.