End of an era as Pope gives final Sunday blessing

Posted: 5:58 PM EST Feb 24, 2013   Updated: 6:00 AM EST Feb 25, 2013

It is the end of an era for Catholics.  Pope Benedict XVI gave his final Sunday blessing before stepping down this week.  However, the Pope's message was shrouded by new allegations coming out of Rome this weekend.

Before parishioners worshipped at the Cathedral Church of St. Catherine of Siena in Allentown, Pope Benedict led thousands at The Vatican. 

It was the Pope's last Sunday blessing before he resigns Thursday -- the first pontiff to do so in six centuries.  At 85, Benedict told followers he is too old and frail to keep up the demands of the job.

"The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation," Benedict told followers at St. Peter's Square.

Here at home, there was praise for the Pope.

"His resignation is just a sign that he's really thinking not of himself, but of the church," said Monsignor Andrew Baker.

But Sunday's blessing comes amidst a potential bombshell out of Rome. 

Italian media, citing anonymous sources, suggest Benedict stepped down after his own inquiry revealed a secret network of gay church officials being blackmailed by male prostitutes.  The inquiry also allegedly reveals financial mismanagement at The Vatican, according to Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

The newspaper reports that Pope Benedict commissioned the investigations last year, after a series of embarrassing leaks out of The Vatican.  Benedict's butler was later convicted of stealing the pontiff's personal files.

The Vatican's chief spokesman struck back against the reports, calling them "unverified, unverifiable, or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions."  He claimed they are an attempt to use "public opinion" to influence the cardinals' free will in the election of a new Pope.

"To date, none of us have actually seen this secret report delivered by the three cardinals to Benedict the 16th, so it's impossible to say precisely what it contains," said John Allen, a Vatican analyst for CNN.

Here at home, the focus is not on rumors from Rome, but on who will take Benedict's place.

"It would be better to be younger because we'd have him longer," said parishioner Nancy Schaeffer, "but we do not want a liberal Pope."

Parishioner Rita Doherty added:  "Of course, I'd like to see an American cardinal named Pope."

Baker said, even though Latin America and Africa are huge growth areas for the church, that won't likely influence the election.

"It's not so much like a political election, where we have to look for a representation -- a representative from a certain area where the church might be growing or not growing," he said.

The Cathedral Church of St. Catherine of Siena will hold a Thanksgiving mass for Pope Benedict on Wednesday night at 7:00. 

Cardinals meet in Rome on March 15 to elect a new leader.