It is a monumental event is obvious. In probably one of the oldest institutions of humanity, this Pope has tried what logic tells us so calmly - frailty of human body and mind in the end catches. When you think you are not in a position to carry the mission of 'ministry you represent', you make a way for someone else. This is important because prevailing ideology of Roman Catholic Church for centuries can be summed as:
"The pope is not any man. He is the vicar of Christ. He should stay on to the end, go ahead and bear his cross to the end. This is a huge sign of world destabilization that will weaken the Church."
-- Alessandra Mussolini, a parliamentarian who is granddaughter of Italy's wartime dictator, Rueters
But men of Benedict's stature clearly have given their entire lives in service of God and will be carrying the 'cross' whether they are occupying a position or not. Question is not of carrying the cross, but of how much it healed rest of humanity. Here, by and large it seems this Pope's legacy is going to be lot dimmer.
As of now, 21st Century is firmly moving toward more secular and faithless world. The transformation from 'Believer and Practicing Religious Person' to 'non-believer and non-practicing person' is happening at a faster clip - either via the intermediate stop as 'non-believer but practicing religion for cultural and political identification purposes' or 'believer but non-practicing due to contemporary world'. Both paths are traveled by more and more people in today's world; all reaching eventually to the same end - the world where practicing religion or religious faith plays diminishing role in individual's choices.
There may be few like Andrew Sullivan who would be advocating for Religious Faith to provide the foundation of 'human love and universal compassion'. But he knows too well how miserable Benedict's reign was towards that end.
As like other religions, Roman Catholicism would not be able to revert this trend just by nominating a bit liberal person as the next pope. Challenges for an organized religion run much more deeper. For it to be relevant:
- First and foremost the basic litmus taste of whether it is open armed to all people of the world, that needs to be fulfilled. (Does that mean next Pope should be non-European? May be.)
- The faith and church must be epistemologically open and receptive to the flood of scientific knowledge which defines contemporary times. It is not sufficient that Roman Catholic Church apologizes for Galileo, but it needs to be much more receptive of what Science tells us about this Universe.
- Finally, after all that; the Church needs to locate and articulate a belief system which will help common people 'here and now' to navigate vagaries of the contemporary life as well as helps common people to relate their individual life and choices to all of Humanity.
That is a tall order.