One of the things I need to keep in mind about the end of Benedict's papacy is the long hope and anticipation for Joseph Ratzinger's rise to the papal throne. There are the usual suspects, of course. Traditionalist leaning clergy and intellectuals. There were also many twenty and thirty somethings who grew up under John Paul II's papacy and saw in Joseph Ratzinger a degree of clarity and conviction the previous pontiff lacked. I could, I suppose, count myself one of those in number. Throughout John Paul II's papacy, there was the hope that Joseph Ratzinger would become pope. In April of 2005, that hope was realized. And then things changed.
I have the utmost respect for Benedict XVI as a theologian and, I reckon, I always will to one degree or another. Yet, invariably, a combination of intellectual and individual development takes place. This coupled with the gradual decline of the Roman Church during Benedict's papacy gradually made a Ratzinger papacy a less sanguine affair, for me, at least. Others held on. Others still invested much hope in Joseph Ratzinger for one reason or another. They were not entirely unjustified. While Benedict's liturgies haven't altered the liturgical practice of the Latin Church at large, they at least gave those persons and parties who prefer canonical prayer in the Latin language legitimate room in Roman Church, post-Vatican II. Years of wayward theology suffered by many a young theologian were suddenly clamped down upon - it has seemed like forever and a day since I last encountered pop-psychology masquerading as theology and written by someone without any credentials in psychology. Others could doubtlessly raise more reasons for continuing to find promise in Benedict's papacy. The man is, above all things, an educator. His liturgical theology is something to be studied and should have been mandatory reading before the imposition of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. There are people who retained the utmost hope and confidence in his papacy, all the more so during the most recent years full of tumult and scandal. These persons were most shocked when Benedict announced his resignation on February 11th.
Shocked and perhaps terrified. Benedict's papacy promised a certain contingent of the Roman Church everything it longed for under John Paull's marathon run. It is common knowledge that Benedict's maneuver's were often fraught with curial infighting and scarcely concealed dissension among many of his bishops and cardinals. Furthermore, the last two or so years have brought to lights how many internal and external pressures had begun bearing down upon Benedict's papacy. Many of these pressures, plainly, would risk undoing much of what Benedict has done. This is a given with any papacy; what one pope decides, another reverses. However, there is the perception that much of Benedict's papacy could well be jettisoned by the next pontiff.
Benedict's papacy may well prove to be the consummation of many things in the Roman Church. It was a last ditch attempt to save the Second Vatican Council from the road to irrelevance which so-called progressives had unwittingly set it upon. I maintain that, gradually, Vatican II will become ever more distant as there is no one left to evoke their memory of the Council. This papacy was an attempt to sure up priestly identity and the significance of the sacramental ministry as well as restore the traditional aesthetic of the Roman liturgy. It was, as his choice of name suggested, an attempt to re-evangelize and restore the faith in Europe, the historical home of the Roman Church. Benedict's supporters know well that all of these things were works in progress, nowhere near completion. There is the distinct sense that one era of the Roman Church is coming to an end and a new one is upon us.
Benedict himself has alluded to the storms battering the barque of Peter and his inability to successfully guide the Church amid them. Now is a time for decision in the Roman Church. I personally do not think the cardinals can afford to vote for the status quo. I also do not think the cardinals should be such intellectual derelicts to vote for every liberal whim - statistics can tell you how well the Episcopalian and Anglican churches have done by following that line.
Something is coming with the next conclave. God only knows what.