JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Noon mass at Immaculate Conception downtown was especially somber Monday, with most parishioners having heard of Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign.

"I was shocked. I was really surprised, especially with, you know, we're getting ready to start Lent," parishioner Kathryn Miller said.

A devout Catholic and mother of six, Miller said she believes the pope's decision to step down took great courage.

"Maybe he knows that there's a strength needed that he might not have at this time to guide the church," she said.

Julie Ingersoll teaches religious studies at the University of North Florida and has been following Twitter closely to gauge the reaction of the academic world and others. She's finding speculation rampant that there's more to the resignation than what the church is revealing.

"And that has to do with the fact that before he was pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was in a position of authority in the Vatican that gave him access to many of the documents that are now slowly trickling out that implicated the church in some cover-ups regarding child abuse," Ingersoll said.

"The reason for his resigning is not because there is a cover-up or there is a hidden agenda, it is simply because of his health," said Bishop Felipe Estevez, of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

Estevez was appointed to his position by Pope Benedict XVI and says when he saw the pope in December, he was concerned for his health then.

"His mind was very sharp, but you could see signs he was weak," Estevez said.