ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Dr. David Mueckl's title in St. Louis is Chief Operating Officer, Archdiocese of St. Louis.
But Mueckl wears another hat. His title in the Roman Catholic Church is Sir David Mueckl, Knight Commander with Star. That's because Mueckl was honored by Pope Benedict XVI in April of 2009 for years of service to the Vatican.
That service has three parts. He is Consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, member of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, and consultant to the Holy See.
In short, Mueckl knows the Pope, who announced his resignation Monday.
And Mueckl said he, too, was surprised.
"Surprised like everyone else but in the past year in the amount of times I have seen him one cannot help but notice his frailty and difficulty in carrying out his responsibilities," said Mueckl. "In a way we're all shocked, but on the other hand it was probably one of the most heroic actions I've seen in recent times because the Holy Father is truly giving himself up for the good of the church so a new Successor of Peter can be named to lead us through the next few years."
Mueckl said he started getting tipped off that something was up hours before the announcement came early Monday.
"I actually had no official advance notice of this," said Mueckl. "But this morning about 1:00 central time I started getting e-mails and text messages from Rome. I did not believe them, to tell you the truth. But I did confirm about 3:00 a.m. with some people at the apostolic palace that the Holy Father was going to resign. And I was really kind of awestruck. It took me about an hour to absorb the magnitude of his action."
Mueckl said Pope Benedict's abdication is not completely without notice.
"Well as everyone is talking about today the Holy Father indicated a number of years ago that if he could not carry out his responsibility because of his age or health that he certainly would resign and would have no qualms about that. So I think he's a man for his word and now is the right time for him to hand off the keys to the chair of Peter."
In his roles as a consultant, Mueckl had occasion to get to know the man Catholics refer to as the Holy Father.
"I would take part in monthly meetings and budgetary meetings," said Mueckl, "just to make sure everything is on track. And I would have the occasion as the chair of a subcommittee to meet with the Holy Father about every other month. So I was fortunate enough to get to see him 24-25 times during my service on the economic affairs council."
Regarding his knighthood, Mueckl said, "The Holy Father, because of my work at the Vatican for nearly seven years, and his gratitude for me staying another year on the economic affairs council, did name me a Knight of St. Gregory, which I am told is still the highest honor a lay person can receive in modern times. I was quite honored by that, the Archdiocese was quite honored by that. At my rank there are only 22 knights worldwide. And I am the youngest."
Mueckl was asked about the protocol for naming a new pope.
"Well that's the beautiful thing," he said. "There really is no protocol in modern times, in 600 years we've not faced this dilemma. But the Holy Spirit is always very positive working through and by us and so we're going to get through this. This will not be as hard as one would imagine. I believe sometime in March a conclave will be called. The Holy Father will not participate in that. But in the whole scheme of things we will come with a new Holy Father that is really divinely-inspired by the Holy Spirit. So I'm very confident about what the future is going to hold."
Still, Mueckl said he is sad to see this Holy Father go.
"In a certain sense I was lucky enough to be in Rome for the last public audience of Pope John Paul II. And a week later, ten days later, he passed away. And now to witness another historic moment in the life of the church it really is kind of a grace-filled moment for us all."
Mueckl said the balloting and meetings of the College of Cardinals will take place in the Sistine Chapel.
"I'm sure within a matter of weeks the Sistine Chapel will be closed and they will begin the preparations for a conclave."
Mueckl commented on speculation about who might be the new pope.
"You hear all these terms about being 'papable,' no one really knows," he said. "It is by faith we believe divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. You here names, circumstances, but one truly does not know until we see that white smoke."
Regarding St. Louis speculation that native son Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York, might be in the running, Mueckl said Dolan has as good a chance as any of the other candidates.
"But I think what we need to center on is not so much who at this time the church would be looking at, as much as the traits and background of the individual who will be inspired to lead the church into the next century. If we're lucky enough to get somebody who could serve 10-15 years, they also could form what could happen in the next 60-70 years."
There has never been an American pope.
"And if you want to just look at the politics of it, people have all kinds of speculation on what could happen. I would say I wouldn't get involved in that type of thinking because there is no basis in fact, for it. There is a tremendous amount of prayer that goes into this. There is no politicking ahead of time; it is not allowed. And I think the Holy Spirit will have a big amount of play as he did when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as well. No one would have ever thought someone 78 years old would have been elected pope at that time either."
Mueckl has heard the guessing games.
"There is speculation the Eastern Europeans have had their time. There is speculation that from South American we could get a new pope. Asia. Again, it's all speculation. Because one really doesn't know what the mindset of the College of Cardinals really is. There are no meetings ahead of time for this. They don't meet for years trying to do succession planning; it just doesn't work as it would in the business world."
Mueckl said this is a significant moment for the Catholic Church.
"As much as people are kind of anxious about what will happen," he said, "this Holy Father has done wonderful work for the church. He has taken seriously the abuse scandal in the church, which has weighed heavily on him, even in the Doctrine of the Faith. He has done wonderful work in ecumenical relations with other religions, and really has reached out to people; not in the same way Pope John Paul II has reached out, because they are different people, but in an equally pastoral way."