Pope Benedict XVI attends a November 2012 mass.
(Image credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

This is why sleep is overrated. You'll miss news like, say, the resignation of a Pope! When the shock of the news wears off, we're left to wonder what this means. The last time a Pope resigned was all the way back in 1415.

Generally, when American political officials resign, a scandal is in the offing. But the former John Cardinal Ratzinger genuinely seems to be stepping down as Pontifex because he no longer believes he can do the job that he believes God has called him to do.

There is something profound and endearing about someone elected (anointed?) to an incredibly powerful lifetime job deciding, with years still left, to walk away. That in and of itself is a powerful example to set for everyone.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

I am no expert on the Church, but aside from a return to a deeply considered, theologically infused pastoral conservatism, there was not much Benedict could do in the eight years he spent as pope to mitigate the worldwide catastrophe that is the scandal of childhood sexual abuse in the church. Maybe my opinion is colored by my having watched Alex Gibney's new documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Sex Lies and the Catholic Church. When Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (or, hundreds of years ago, the Inquisition), every accusation of abuse passed through his office. What was done, and what wasn't, during those years, is partly his responsibility.

The 265th Pope is by all accounts (including his own) a "humble servant in the garden of the Lord." Unlike Pope John Paul II, he never had the chance to bond with Catholics worldwide. His tenure was too short, and there were too much turbulence: Whistleblowers in his own home, financial scandals, and the usual push and pull of the church and modernism.

Who is next?

The college of Cardinals will feel pressure to account for the places where the Church is large and growing (Latin America and Africa), but the body seems rather immune to demography. They'll choose at the end of March. And the former John Ratzinger will certainly, in some form, make known his preference, even though he will not take part in the conclave.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is TheWeek.com's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.