Yet, many Catholic scholars say the act has in some ways demystified the papacy, especially given the intense focus in the final days of Benedict’s pontificate to the 2012 scandal over leaked Vatican documents and what role the crisis had played in his decision to leave. Joseph Bottum, writing in The Weekly Standard, a conservative U.S. publication, called Benedict “a terrible executive of the Vatican.”
“There’s the relationship part — he’s your father — and your father is always your father. Then there’s the functional part — whether he’s up to the job,” said Chicago Cardinal Francis George in a phone interview. “The functional concerns, those have come to the fore now. We’ll see what, if any, impact that has as we go forward.”
Even with Benedict’s resignation, new popes are unlikely to emerge from a conclave thinking, “I’ll go in for 10 years or so then give it up,” said Francesco Cesareo, a specialist in church history and president of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. The significance of the office, its history and spiritual duties, will always make any decision to leave difficult.
At the Feb. 11 Vatican event when Benedict made his dramatic announcement, the 85-year-old leader said he had examined his conscience before God and decided his strength, due to old age, had “deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
“I’m sure Benedict agonized and prayed over this for a long time asking what would this mean for the church,” Cesareo said. “Benedict must have been thinking, ‘What will people think that I’m leaving? Will I be seen as abandoning the flock?’ He decided, ‘I’m willing to sacrifice this position, for the good of the institution.”’