Joseph Ratzinger never hid the fact he thought the Roman Catholic papacy was too big for one man.
For several days after being elected in 2005, Pope Benedict – as he chose to be called – spoke as if in shock. At his first public Mass, he asked: “I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this?”
At a meeting with fellow Germans the following day, Benedict surprised his well-wishers by likening the experience of being elected in the Sistine Chapel to getting dizzy as he watched a guillotine blade fall upon him.
Now he has broken six centuries of tradition and resigned, the Catholic Church is asking whether in an era of democracy, 24/7 television and Twitter, the papacy modeled on Renaissance-era monarchy is suffering the same fate. There have been sexual abuse scandals, disputes with Muslims and Jews, suspected money-laundering at the Vatican Bank and communications gaffes. Stacks of private files stolen by Benedict’s own butler have documented corruption and in-fighting among senior officials.