You gotta know when to fold - Kenny Rogers
The 85-year-old Pope's resignation letter said: "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
"I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
"However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me."
He was only pope for eight years.
The official reason for Pope Benedict's departure is given as ill health, and at 85 there is probably an element of truth in that. But the former Cardinal Ratzinger is no fool, even at 85. And the real reason, the one that probably led to his fatigue and to this decision was his utter failure as pope.
He failed to re-establish the Church's position in Europe, the legacy of a previous Pope Benedict and the reason he took the name. After a brief show of strength against radical Islam and Islamism, he collapsed into dhimmitude and appeasement, leaving the Christians of the Middle East and particularly the Maronite Catholics at the Islamist's mercy. When Catholics and the Church needed a strong champion, they got instead a leader who was all too willing to be bullied.
As part of that, he abandoned the brave words he spoke at Auschwitz identifying the Church's fate with that of the Jewish people's. In fact, he appeared to go out of his way to put distance between them. He and Papal officials under his leadership were harshly critical of Israel, and the church outright refused to allow scholars access to its archives from the Holocaust era as it continued with proposed Beatification of WWII era Pope Pius XII, something that raised questions not only with Jews but with many Catholics.
To me, the ultimate symbol of Pope Benedict's tenure is the picture above, where a smiling pontiff cheerfully dons a PLO kefiya, the modern equivalent of a Nazi armband.
When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the UN last year and erupted with an anti-semitic screed, the only European delegation not to walk out on him was the one from the Vatican.
He even attempted to reverse elements of Vatican II while bringing back into the fold the anti-semites and Holocaust deniers of the Pius X society. as well as anti-Semitic Church figures like Poland's Cardinal Joseph Glemp or Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Meridiaga, the Archbishop of Honduras who, among other things blames "the Jews"for the Church's scandals involving priests and sexual abuse of young parishioners and calls for Jerusalem to be taken away from Israel as its capitol.
Pope Benedict even saw fit to visit Croatia in 2011 and praise Cardinal Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac, a staunch supporter of the pro Nazi Ustasha regime, who slaughtered thousands of Jews, Serbs and Roma during WWII with a cruelty and barbarity that even surprised their Nazi allies.
Pope Benedict failed to further solidify or expand the Church's foothold in Asia or its growing community of believers in Africa, nor did he do anything meaningful towards protecting African Catholics from predatory jihadis in countries like Nigeria or the Sudan. His bowing and scraping at the altar of Islam got neiother th eChurch nor its adherants any mercy or consideration.
And the shameful saga of the Church covering for priests guilty of sexually abusing minors and simply shifting them to unwary parishes also happened under his watch, a scandal that profoundly affected and outraged many deeply religious Catholics.
Pope Benedict was not an evil man. He was simply a weak reed incapable of providing the leadership the Church needed, and it's to his credit that he finally realized it.
Sorrowfully, he leaves the Church weaker and more divided than it was was he first assumed the Papacy. And in his retirement, he will no doubt have ample time to reflect on that.
Vale et bonam fortunam .. sed pergens cito
The conclave to choose a new Pope will take place 15 to 20 days after Pope Benedict officially retires. There is no clear frontrunner, and it will be interesting to see whom the Church chooses.Is there another John Paul II waiting somewhere in the wings?