Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he plans to step down at the end of the month — the first pope in 600 years to resign voluntarily rather than clinging to power and dying in office.

Benedict has not been my favorite pope: his strict orthodoxy and less-than-tolerant approach to others dialed back years of progressive movement in the Catholic church, and his failure to quickly ride herd on priestly pedophilia was a great disappointment.

I’m not Catholic, so I really have no skin in the game, but I affirm the 85-year-old Benedict’s decision to resign rather than stay in a job long after he’s physically capable of doing it well. Those who elected him — at age 78 — should have known he would not be able to serve effectively for long.

What Benedict did well (from his perspective) was to appoint so many conservative cardinals, including a disproportionate number of Europeans, that his conservative legacy is almost certain to live on in the next pope, and that orthodox stamp is likely to be his most lasting contribution.

But maybe a new voice of moderation will arise. We can always hope.


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