DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he plans to retire at the end of the month. He will be the first pontiff to step down in several hundred years. He was 78 years old when elected to the position back in 2005, one of the oldest men to ever be selected. Pope Benedict XVI took over when the Catholic church faced a storm of controversy over child sex abuse scandals involving priests.

Catholic leaders across North Texas have been reacting to the sudden news. “I’m just as surprised as everybody else,” said Monsignor Michael Olson with Holy Trinity Seminary at the University of Dallas in Irving. “In some ways, I’m not totally shocked, given the character of Pope Benedict.”

Pat Svacina with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth echoed that statement. “It’s obviously a surprise to the Catholic community,” he said on Monday morning, “and yet, Pope Benedict being the pragmatist that he is, has said before that if circumstances dictate that he step down early, that he would. He has hinted before that he would do that, except no one was quite expecting it.”

Those hints came in recent writings from the Pope himself. Olson explained, “In his recent book, I know that he wrote about the possibility of a Pope resigning, especially if his health was such that he didn’t think he could carry the burdens of the job. And I suspect that’s really what he’s doing here at 85 years of age.”

“Him stepping down is really in the service of the church, I suspect,” Olson added.

Such a practical action has come to be expected from Pope Benedict XVI. “He has really become embraced by the Catholic community and, I think, the world,” Svacina said. “He will go down probably as one of the Popes that was really practical for the time.” Pope Benedict XVI was notable for being the first pontiff with a Twitter account to spread the Catholic faith using social media.

What’s next for the outgoing leader? “He’ll go and do what he thought he was going to do before they elected him Pope at 78,” said Olson, “and that is retire and study and probably live with his brother — who is another priest — and read books like he likes to do.”

Meanwhile, church leaders will be left to select a new Pope, a process that will most likely start in March. “The Catholic church knows it’s okay,” said Svacina. “I don’t think there’s anxiety. God has always taken care of the Catholic church and found us a good leader, and that’s what will happen.”

Also Check Out: