PROMINENT Australian Catholics have rejected claims by Cardinal George Pell that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI weakened the papacy, and dismissed notions the Sydney Archbishop was angling for the top job.
It came as the Pope had a last day to match his shy personality, with surprisingly little ceremony.
He was to meet cardinals from around the world, followed by a private parting ceremony in a Vatican courtyard in mid-afternoon, followed by a helicopter flight across the Vatican, the world's smallest state, to the papal retreat of Castel Gandolfo near Rome.
Earlier, Cardinal Pell - in Rome, where he will help choose Benedict's successor - said that the resignation could set a dangerous precedent.
Paul Collins, a church historian and former priest, said Cardinal Pell believed the Pope should be a kind of superman, whereas Benedict's decision had ''brought the papacy down to earth''. He welcomed Benedict's decision to resign. ''Popes have got to realise that they are just human, not superman, and when their energy runs out they have got to be prepared to resign.''
Father Michael Elligate, a priest at St Carthage's University Parish in Parkville, Melbourne, said the suggestion that the Pope should die in office had nothing to do with scripture.
''In these times it's acceptable that we have retirement ages and I think it's a very healthy thing that a pope has now set a modern precedent,'' he said.
Father Elligate said Cardinal Pell's comment that the greatest issue facing the Catholic Church was not sexual abuse but declining belief in the developed world was ''appalling''.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said he did not want to speculate on whether the resignation would destabilise future popes. ''I trust the church and I trust the papacy,'' he said.
Professor Neil Ormerod, from the Australian Catholic University, said the remarks were more likely posturing - designed to signal what attributes Cardinal Pell was seeking in the next pope.