MADISON, Wis. -

Madison Catholic Diocese Bishop Robert Morlino says the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI is “shocking, but not altogether surprising.”

In a statement released through the Diocese, Morlino said, “His announcement brings me sadness personally, as he is a hero to me and a great shepherd for the church.” Morlino said he first met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1983.

Pope Benedict, 85, will resign at the end of the month "because of advanced age."

It's the first time a pope has stepped down in nearly 600 years.

“Knowing his decision was made after prudent consideration of the needs of the entire church, and reflecting on his own human limitations, should bring us all a great deal of consolation,” said Morlino.

Analysts and experts immediately began debating the merits of naming a pontiff from the developing world, where the church continues to grow, versus one from Europe, where it has deep historical roots.