It was shocking news to wake up to today, the announcement of Benedict’s imminent resignation, as of February 28th. It is not shocking to learn that the pope’s health is failing. The wonder is that his rather frail health held up for so long, and allowed him to accomplish so much.
We knew Pope Benedict, before he was elected, was the sharpest pencil in the box, the most learned. Even in his days as one of the outstanding periti (experts) at Vatican II, it was widely assumed that he would one day be a cardinal. I can’t remember anyone thinking of a non-Italian pope in those days, but if we'd had the thought, Josef Ratzinger would have been near the top of the list from the men of his generation.
It was inspirational for the world to live through the long sufferings of Pope John Paul II, but I am glad in this case that Benedict has set a modern precedent for the possibility of resigning in certain circumstances. In trying times, better a pope in full health and strength. Better, too, a calm and orderly transition toward the conclave to elect him.