Now that Pope Benedict has granted his own wish to step down, the debate over his legacy is officially open.
Essay: The fundamental need within Catholicism is to grow institutionally and structurally into the interrelated three-fold form of ecclesial existence.
As a few night owls strolled through the crisp Roman evening Feb. 28, they were illuminated by one less reflection of lights. Behind the northern side of the square’s iconic colonnades, the apostolic palace was dark.
In a small but tell-tale sign of the transition facing the church, the lights of the pope’s apartment had been turned off.
Benedict stands in a long line of popes whose teachings challenge both the political left and right, but conservatives found more challenge and less solace from Rome.
Making a Difference: Pope Benedict might have been a controversial figure, but hopefully everyone can agree that he made a valuable contribution to the church's social doctrine.
As the cardinals gather in discussions this week to determine the road ahead, I hope they stay focused on church governance as the key to moving forward.
It is widely understood that Vatican dysfunction has placed a heavy burden on the church and led to the burdens of which Emeritus Pope Benedict spoke before his retirement.
The Vatican is incapable of running the global church. But let's keep in mind it did not have to be this way – and that our emeritus pope brought much of it on himself.
When Benedict XVI announced his resignation Feb. 11, he filled front pages across his German homeland as media commentators assessed his eight-year pontificate and tributes came in from public figures.
Yet some say enthusiasm for the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger never reached a high level in Germany, where relations between the pope and his own countrymen always remained complex.
"I think many Germans had trouble from the outset with the idea of a German pope," said Stefan Forner, spokesman for the German church's Berlin archdiocese.
There is much speculation about the possible effects of Pope Benedict's resignation. Some consider it a mere glitch, a personal choice by an elderly and tired pontiff. Others think it could have a momentous, ongoing ripple effect that will alter the face of Catholic leadership for centuries. Promoting this latter school of thought is an article in the online publication International Political Economy, edited by Marvin Zonis.
At 8 p.m Thursday, the reign of the 265th Pope, the 264th successor of St. Peter, came to an end, having lasted 7 years, 10 months, and 9 days.
As Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican for the last time as the reigning pontiff three hours earlier, pilgrims and admirers came to St. Peter's Square to see his white helicopter fly away.
As jumbo-tron screens showed the final moments -- Benedict saying goodbye to the Roman curia, then waving to the crowd one last time before entering the helicopter -- many could be seen wiping away tears.
In the wake of Pope Benedict's decision to resign from the papacy, journalists quickly recalled that Pope John Paul II had also prepared letters of resignation to take effect in the event that he lost his capacity to continue as leader of the church.
But those two are not the only modern popes who prepared to resign.
In the 1940s, Pope Pius XII wrote a letter of resignation that would take effect immediately if Adolf Hitler ever had him arrested, according to a Jan. 28, 1988, report by John Thavis of Catholic News Service (then National Catholic News Service).