Pope Benedict XVI Feb 2013 2
Pope Benedict XVI. Reuters

The news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation has shocked media around the world -- including in China, where the Catholic Church and government do not always agree.

In a statement Monday, the 85-year-old pope cited his deteriorating strength as the reason behind his abdication. “I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” he said in his statement.

The news of the resignation quickly hit China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, Weibo, and is receiving a mixed reaction from users.

Many have responded with understanding, similar to the response of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, who was quoted by BBC saying, that being a pope is “not an easy task and it demands a great sacrifice.”

One user agreed, saying, “The Pope is the supreme leader of the Catholic Church, the responsibility and the pressure must be unimaginable. Pope Benedict XVI’s in his elderly years is bearing too much responsibility and pressure is kind of torture and inhumane,” adding that a “more appropriate person to assume the burden of the congregation is good.”

China’s government in particular has been the root of many religious-political headaches for the Catholic Church. Problems began in 1951, when the church and the government severed ties because of the Vatican’s recognition of the Taipei national government, which Beijing believes is illegitimate. For decades, the nation’s practicing Catholics (estimated to be 12 million today) had been bitterly divided between the government-sanctioned Catholic churches, where bishops are ordained without the approval of the Pope, and the “underground” churches that are loyal to the Vatican.

Progress was made in 2007, reaching pseudo-reconciliation when Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to China’s practicing Catholics, urging reunification. However, tensions remain as, most recently, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, 45, the Vatican-approved bishop of Shanghai, was stripped of his title by the government-run Chinese Catholic Bishops Council, after renouncing the government during his consecration last July.

Another Weibo user described the resignation of the Pope as another sign of deteriorating global peace.

“The Pope is possibly one of the world’s only posts without any constraints, and can be said to be one of the world’s most respected jobs. This year, even for a person of the caliber of Benedict XVI, world stress is too great. Even the Pope had to resign.”

Others had a more light-hearted take on the situation, saying that the Pope, like many people in China’s new austerity-driven workforce, is leaving because of his low earnings.

One user joked, “Oh my God! Even the Pope is not overly happy about his bonus this year!”

Most however, are directing their attention toward who will be up next and how long it will take before the successor is elected.

“Much respect! A very kind, elderly, very magnetic leader of a collective. The next concern is when the secret process for the new selection of the Pope will happen,” a user wondered.

“No use in guessing who's next for such a secretive congregation,” another added.

Though many speculate Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson as a front-runner to replace Benedict, the Vatican is mum, as it has always been on the subject of papal succession. The pontiff will be stepping down at the end of the month, Feb. 28, leaving the position vacant until his successor is named by the cardinals.