Following Benedict XVI's announcement that he would be the first pope to step down in more than 700 years, the head of the Diocese of Brooklyn said he was "surprised but not shocked."
"It's a very demanding position," Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said in an interview with Patch. "If you have to keep a very tight schedule, with a lot of things to do, it becomes impossible unless you're in good health."
Pope Benedict XVI, now 85, was elected in 2005, following the death of John Paul II. At the time he was 78, the oldest person to be elected to the position since 1730, according to the New York Times.
When announcing his decision, Benedict cited his age and declining health.
“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise," he said in a statement.
DiMarzio said he could see the pontiff slowing down over the past few years. In October of 2011, Benedict began riding a wheeled platform down the aisle of St. Peter's Basilica and a few months later he began using a walking stick, according to the Catholic News Service.
"The fact that they were now wheeling him up the aisle at St. Peter's, that he was using a cane ... . It's a very demanding position physically and psychologically," DiMarzio said.
DiMarzio, who met with Benedict in person two years ago at the Vatican, noted the pontiff's engaging manner and "keen" mind.
"He was very alert, very interested in what was happening in the diocese," he said. "He's a very personable person."
As to the timing of the announcement, just two days before Ash Wednesday, DiMarzio said, "Clearly, he was hoping that a new pope would be elected in time for Holy Week. That's a grueling schedule and he was hoping to have in place someone someone in better health could accomplish everything that needs to be done."
DiMarzio doesn't have a particular person in mind as successor, but said it should be someone who "is intellectually capable of guiding the church in a complex world," as well as "physically capable of keeping up with the schedule of the papacy today."
Finally from the perspective of the Diocese of Brooklyn, he hopes for someone with an international perspective.
"Here in Brooklyn and Queens we're a diocese of immigrants, and the person needs to understand the globalization of the church, but I think the Vatican already understands this," he said.
Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,was known for his conservative stands against such issues as homosexuality, stem cell research, the ordination of female priests. He also asserted that Catholicism is the only "true" religion and that other religions are "deficient," according to the New York Times.
His papacy was riddled with controversy, including his handling of the growing sexual abuse scandals and a speech he made in 2006, in which he read a quote from a 14th century Byzantine emperor saying that Islam was "evil and inhuman."
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415, ending what is known as the Great Western Schism.
And while Benedict's reign has been filled with scandals, the 85-year-old pope has said all along that his reign would likely be short due to his advanced age.
Upon his election, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was said to have remarked to his fellow cardinals that he would not have a long papacy, the Catholic News Service reported.
And in 2010, Benedict said in an interview that, “if a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign," the Times reports.