BUFFALO, NY - Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, the Catholic Bishop of Buffalo, spoke with reporters Monday morning regarding the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
The leader of 631,409 Catholics in the eight county Buffalo Diocese said he was initially surprised at the announcement like everyone else.
"I don't even think the Cardinals in this country, who are his closest collaborators, knew about it," Malone said, after celebrating a mass before students at Mount Mercy Academy in South Buffalo, and while wearing a pectoral cross given to him by the Pope.
However, upon reflection, Malone said Benedict's voluntary resignation, (a first for a Pope in more than 700 years) was understandable, especially when he remembered the last time he saw the Pope in person in November, 2011.
"He seemed more fragile than I thought he would be," Malone recalled. "I think the pope said earlier this year that when the time came when he thought he should step down he would. And I think it's for the good of the church."
Malone also believes Benedict's historically rare action may set a precedent for future Popes, particularly when ill health becomes a major factor in their ability to go on serving.
"It has traditionally been a serve till you die job...and I think it does send a message. We went through that long period with Pope John Paul II, seeing him get sicker and sicker and sicker and weaker and weaker...I wonder if Pope Benedict, knowing his own health was not what it once was, perhaps thought we shouldn't have two papacies in a row that way," Malone said.
Malone was appointed this past summer by Benedict XVI to be the Bishop of Buffalo, while continuing to be the Bishop of Portland Maine until a successor would be named there, at which time Malone could then devote his full attention to Western New York.
However, he does not think the Pope's sudden announcement that he will resign effective February 28 will slow that process.
"Probably not because it's all in the works already. I have no clue as to who will be appointed for Portland, but I do know the process is going forward," Malone told WGRZ-TV.
Of course, a more important process begins at month's end, when a conclave of Cardinals begins to select a new Pope.
Malone says he would not be surprised to see serious consideration to a candidate from an emerging nation, which was an idea brought up when Benedict XVI was selected seven years ago.
"I hope and pray it's exactly the right person we need, whoever he is," said Malone. "But I would love to see a Pope come from Africa or India, the Philippines, or Central or South America."
While one can never predict with certainty the outcome of the selection, Malone seems almost certain the next Pontiff will not hail from the United States.
"I can't imagine that in my lifetime", was Malone's response when we asked him about that. "The United States is already too much of a super power and already so dominant," he said.
Click on the video player to watch our report from 2 On Your Side reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Scott May. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2