Men and women throughout the world in general, and Roman Catholics in particular, were a little stunned Monday morning when word spread that Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would retire as of Feb. 28.
As he has done throughout his entire eight years in the papacy, Benedict put the needs of the church and its more than 1 billion followers first, emphasizing that the post requires "both strength of body and mind." The pope, who felt he simply no longer could muster that strength, put his faith first after realizing his "incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
While Benedict's future is fairly well laid out - he will spend time at the papal summer retreat Castel Gandolfo before moving to his retirement home in a monestary on the edge of the Vatican gardens - the road ahead for church officials is far less smooth.
It's a situation they have not seen since 1415, when Gregory XII stepped down to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants, and one that raises many questions, not the least of which s how the former pope will be addressed.
Church officials have said that whatever else happens, Benedict will have no role in the selection of his successor. When that will occur is not yet known, but it is expected that the next pope will be elected by the College of Cardinals before Easter.
It's too early to judge what legacy he leaves, but Benedict's retirement gives theologians and historians a rare chance to examine his works, his teachings and his writings while he is still alive.
For now, we think Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville best put the decision into perspective when he said, "Whatever decision the pope makes for his future will be for he good of the church."