VATICAN CITY - The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI aught world governments and religious leaders by surprise, even in his home country of Germany, as reaction to the unexpected decision came slowly in many quarters.
"As a Christian and as a Catholic, one can't help but be moved and touched by this," said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert.
"The German government has the highest respect for the Holy Father, for what he has done, for his contributions over the course of his life to the Catholic Church," he added. "He has been at the head of the Catholic Church for nearly eight years. He has left a very personal signature as a thinker at the head of the Church, and also as a shepherd. Whatever the reasons for this decision, they must be respected."
In Israel, chief rabbi Yona Metzger praised Pope Benedict's inter-religious outreach, saying relations between Israel and the Vatican had never been better, Ha'aretz reported.
"During his period [as pope] there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue," a spokesman quoted Metzger as saying. "I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing inter-religious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam."
The British newspaper The Guardian says Pope Benedict's abrupt resignation "heralds the end of a sad and storm-tossed seven-year papacy."
"The former Joseph Ratzinger came to the highest office in the Roman Catholic church with a reputation as a challenging, conservative intellectual," writes the Guardian's Rome correspondent. "But the messages that he sought to convey were all but drowned out, first by a string of controversies that were largely of his own making, and subsequently by the outcry - particularly in Europe - over sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clerics.".
"On the one hand, he was intellectually remorseless. Not for nothing had he attracted the nickname of "God's Rotweiler". Yet, like many scholars, Benedict was personally timid - wholly lacking in that desk-thumping vigor needed to foist reforms on clerics whose resistance to change is the stuff of legend."
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