Venice Diocese suprised by Pope's announcement

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VENICE - Monday's news of the Pope’s resignation came as a surprise to many Catholics on the Suncoast.

The diocese in Venice oversees nearly 60 catholic churches from Collier County north to Manatee County. It's believed least 10% of everyone living in the 10-county area the diocese calls home is Catholic. That's not even counting snowbirds who call other places home and those not considered registered here.

That led to a busy Monday at the diocese. "Lots of phone calls, lots of inquiries wanting to know if there is more details," says Billy Atwell at the diocese.

The news that Pope Benedict was stepping down was new even to those there. "It was a bit of a surprise. We do know the Holy Father did release a statement where he said due to his health he was unable to perform his ministry."

The Diocese of Venice oversees 59 Catholic churches, along with numerous schools, missions, and social service facilities. We are told Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who heads it all, is currently in the hospital with a temporary medical issue.

He did release a statement Monday saying in part that "I ask all Catholics in the Diocese of Venice in Florida to join me in prayer for Pope Benedict XVI and for the College of Cardinals as they prepare to convene, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to elect the next successor of St. Peter."

"The main process will be happening in Rome. A conclave will meet after February 28th, which is when he will officially resign. The conclave will meet of all College of Cardinals to elect the next Pope," says Atwell.

Under these circumstances it is not exactly well practiced. "More is going to be coming about what the process will be like. It's been 600 years since the last Pope resigned like this. There is a lot of information forthcoming."

They’re even waiting they say for more direction from a higher power. "It is a process that is guided by the Holy Spirit. We entrust ourselves to God and know he will guide that process and help the church continue to be led by his grace."

Officials at the diocese are emphasizing that Bishop Dewane will be away temporarily and back ministering very soon.

Speculation is that a new Pope would be selected by March 31st, Easter Sunday.