IT seems fitting that he delivered the news in Latin, not in German, or Italian, or English, or the other languages he speaks.
Pope Benedict XVI is a traditionalist in the Roman Catholic Church. So, Latin? Sure. But what he uttered on Monday certainly broke tradition. He is the first pope in six centuries to leave the helm of the church not by death, but by decision.
Eight years after he was called to lead his church upon the death of Pope John Paul II, Benedict said he can no longer muster the mental or physical strength to lead the church. At 85, he will stand aside.
And so he will be in the rare position of hearing the world's assessment of his tenure. The eulogies, if you will. That started on Monday with the broad opinion that he has made a courageous decision for the good of his church.
Benedict stood, with uncompromising conviction, for the sanctity of life. He lent no support to Catholics who bristled at certain elements of church doctrine. His tenacious defense of the church's teaching earned this native of Bavaria the nickname “God's Rottweiler.”
Like it or not, he will forever be compared with his predecessor. He could not match the charisma of John Paul II, one of the most influential religious leaders of modern times. But Benedict affirmed the direction of the church. Those who hope for a sudden tilt under the next pope are likely to be disappointed. The cardinals who will choose the new leader were elevated to their high standing by the last two popes. They chose with purpose.
Benedict, like John Paul II, will be remembered as a powerful symbol. Much as the papacy of the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla enabled his homeland of Poland to heal the scars of Nazi and Soviet domination in its past, so too did the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's papacy lift his native Germany from its terrible wartime history.