This Pope’s Legacy
And the future of the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI in 2005


Pope Benedict’s news — that he will step aside as pontiff — is still being processed by a shocked world as prayers commence for the future shepherd of the world’s Catholics. Priests, scholars, and lay men and women assess what this all means.

When he was elected, on April 19, 2005, Pope Benedict introduced himself to the Church as a “simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard,” and his genuine humility before the duties of his office remains striking today.

While many of us were more than satisfied with the level at which he was continuing to serve the whole Church at 85 — most especially in his teaching office — it’s clear he believes that the ministry of the successor of St. Peter requires more than he thinks he is physically capable of giving.

It’s easy to understand his conclusion. Very few octogenarians would have the stamina to fulfill the Pope’s daily schedule of continuous high-level meetings and speeches, not to mention grueling international travel and a liturgical schedule awaiting him during Holy Week that has been known to wipe out priests half his age.

Having repeatedly examined his conscience before God, he believes that this is what the Lord is asking of him at this time. So his decision today is fundamentally not a “no” to the burdens of the papacy but one more “yes” in a lifetime of faithful yeses to what the Lord is asking of him.

He himself has taught us repeatedly that the most important thing we do is prayer, and so he is prioritizing that work in the years he has left, even above the supremely important ministry of the papacy.

I’m grateful for his eight years of service, in which he pushed himself to the limit, and I ask the Supreme Pastor — who, Pope Benedict reminds us, is the one who guides the Church, and who will never have an interregnum — to bless him with the reward given to all good and faithful servants.

Father Roger J. Landry is chaplain of Catholic Voices USA and pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River, Mass.

Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy is one of authentic humility and service. Joseph Ratzinger was portrayed by the media as the Vatican’s bully boy, mocked as “Ratzi the Nazi” or “God’s Rottweiler.” As Pope he proved to be more grandfather than Mafia Godfather — more Old English sheepdog than junkyard dog. His gentle, scholarly, and reclusive nature dispelled his harsh former image almost overnight.

His personal humility and simple spirituality radiated from his encyclicals: God Is LoveSaved by Hope, and Truth in Love. His scholarly writings, homilies, and religious instruction all overflowed not simply with an intellectual presentation of the Catholic faith, but with a genuine, human warmth and immediacy. He constantly spoke of the Catholic faith in Evangelical terms as being first and foremost a “great adventure” and “a living encounter with Jesus Christ.”