The Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse learned of the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign early Monday morning, around the same time that millions of Americans were hearing the news.

Most Rev. Robert Cunningham said his cellphone beeped just as he was getting up. The message was the news release that Pope Benedict had made his resignation known to a group of cardinals with whom he met.

Speaking on WNBF Radio's Binghamton Now program, Cunningham said he had not expected the announcement, which he described as "shocking news."

Cunningham said he "had no idea, no clue" that Benedict might consider resigning less than eight years after he became pope.

The bishop said the Catholics he'd spoken with since the announcement was made seemed "genuinely surprised."

Cunningham said he'd met with the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he was elected and since he became pope.

The bishop said the most recent occasion was about 14 months ago when the bishops of New York State visited Rome.

Cunningham described Benedict as a "wonderful teacher" and a "clear writer."

While the pope mentally is "very alert," the bishop said he believes that "physically he must feel that he doesn't have the stamina that is needed" to carry on his duties.

Cunningham said Benedict's legacy during his nearly eight years as pope likely will be the work he did as a teacher.

While speculation about who will be chosen to be the next pope is to be expected, the bishop said "it's always premature, you never know who it's going to be."

Benedict's resignation is to take effect February 28.

Cunningham said he expects the process to elect his successor won't take very long.

Pope Benedict appointed Cunningham as the tenth Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse on April 21, 2009. Cunningham was installed as bishop the following month.

Cunningham was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the neighboring Diocese of Rochester last September 21 following the resignation of Bishop Matthew Clark.


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