Some prophets had foretold that the Pope would resign: Bishop Luigi Bettazzi a year ago, for instance, and Catholic journalist Antonio Socci in September 2011: both “vox clamantis in deserto”.
Why has this happened? It may take a long time for the real story to emerge. We might risk one line of speculation now: the Pope has resigned to remain holy in his short path towards heaven. The papacy does not seem to be a good place to preserve holiness. As Pope Gregory the Great wrote: “For we, under the colour of ecclesiastical government, are tossed in the billows of this world, which frequently overwhelm us.” Pope Benedict XIV, Prospero Lambertini, said something similar when was asked if he wanted to be elected Pope (my translation): “I have a great will to go to heaven and I agree with Pius V, who said: ‘As long as I was a priest I had a great hope to go there, as a cardinal I had doubts, as a Pope I despaired.’”
Just before being elected, Joseph Ratzinger showed his view of the Roman Curia, during the Via Crucis in 2005, when he said: “What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!”
During his papacy Benedict XVI has rebuked his Curia several times, reminding officials that the Church should not seek power and richness, and that priests should not enter politics. But those who know about the Vatican cannot deny that power is a core business there, and seems to remain so despite Benedict XVI’s struggle. The Pope is, in his own mind, too old now, and passes on the torch to somebody younger, who will have the strength to continue his battle.