Politicians react to Pope's retirement with surprise, thanksgiving

President Barack Obama Official White House Photo by Pete Souza CNA US Catholic News 3 14 12 President Barack Obama. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Political leaders in the United States offered their prayers and respect upon learning of Pope Benedict XVI's decision to retire at the end of the month. 

"On behalf of Americans everywhere," said U.S. President Barack Obama in a Feb. 11 statement, "Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI."

"Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years," the president said.

"The Church plays a critical role in the United States and the world," he added, "and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's successor."

Pope Benedict announced his decision to retire on the morning of Feb. 11 in Rome. In an address in Latin to a group of Cardinals, the Pope stated that he would relinquish his role on Feb. 28 due to his declining strength and advancing age. He will be the first Pope to resign from his position in nearly 600 years.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, voiced admiration for the Holy Father on Twitter, calling him "a man of great integrity" who is "looking out for what he believes is the best interest of our church."

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is also Catholic, described the Pope as "a man of action and principle, working to promote human rights and dignity in places around the globe where they are too often denied."

"We wish Pope Benedict great peace and health and we will keep him in our prayers," he said.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) also offered "prayers and gratitude."

"The Holy Father's decision displays extraordinary humility and love for the Church, two things that have been the hallmarks of his service," Boehner said in a statement.

"Americans were inspired by his visit to the United States in 2008, and by his quiet, steady leadership of the Church in uncertain times," he continued. "People of all nations have been blessed by the sacrifices he has made to sow the seeds of hope, justice, and compassion throughout the world in the name of Our Lord and Savior."

Other Catholic lawmakers released similar statements. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) praised the Pope's decision, saying that it "displayed the qualities of an excellent leader and a true man of God."

"I wish him well in the future," Rubio said, "and, as a Catholic, I thank him for his service to God and the Church."

"I also look with optimism toward the future of the Catholic Church as it prepares to welcome a new leader and as it continues to spread God's message of faith, hope and love to all the corners of the world," he added.

Congressman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) echoed the surprise and prayers of his colleagues, while stating that the Holy Father's decision is "another sign of his humility and good sense."

Ryan recounted the Pope's defense of human life and dignity, advocacy for "the poor, the powerless, the unborn, the sick, and the elderly," and work towards peace and interreligious cooperation.

He also pointed to Pope Benedict's "brilliant intellect," referring to the Holy Father's books, homilies and writings as "new treasures of the Church."

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"His pontificate has been a blessing to the world," Ryan said.

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