While news of the impending resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has caught the world by surprise, speculation has already begun about the reasons for this resignation and who might be his successor.
It is appropriate at this point, however, to reflect on the great gift that Pope Benedict was for the Catholic Church. He was a close collaborator of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and in many ways his pontificate was a continuation of the goals and vision of his predecessor.
He continued and made a centerpiece of his pontificate the New Evangelization first proclaimed by John Paul II. He saw clearly that the Church itself needed to be reinvigorated and renewed, and it was in this spirit that he assembled the recent synod of bishops in October.
At the same time, he has been a great theologian pope, and he had his own agenda. During his eight-year pontificate, he used the Chair of Peter as a pulpit from which to address the challenges and the hopes of modern society. His three encyclicals, "God is Love," "In Hope We Are Saved" and "Charity in Truth," all spoke to his concerns, and revealed both a solicitude for modern men and women in the midst of immense cultural transformation and an unshakable faith that our hope remained always and essentially in Christ.
"God is the foundation of hope," he wrote in his second encyclical. "Not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us."
His pontificate will be remembered for his trips to the United States, England, Lebanon, Cuba and more, but it will also be remembered for his writings, particularly his books on Jesus of Nazareth. He wrote with great intellectual and stylistic clarity, which made him one of the most accessible and widely read popes of the last century.
Mention of his pontificate will also be inextricably linked to the sexual abuse crises that have rocked various nations around the globe. His legacy is that he sought to address this scandal, calling for reform and renewal and apologizing repeatedly and profoundly to those who were victims of such abuses.
Ultimately, however, we will miss him as much for his humility as for his wisdom, humility embodied in his decision to resign from the papacy for the good of the Church Universal. A monumental theologian of the 20th century, and the first new pope of the Third Millennium, we believe that Pope Benedict will be remembered for his dedication to the renewal of the Church and its people. – Gregory Erlandson, president, Our Sunday Visitor PublishingPerhaps the most defining issue of Pope Benedict’s papacy will be his handling of the clerical sexual abuse crises worldwide. Erlandson’s book (co-authored with Dr. Matthew Bunson), "Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis" (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010) revealed what many secular news sources didn't as the first critically objective and comprehensive book showing the pope’s real response to the sexual abuse crisis. Additional information on the book is at: www.osv.com/abusecrisis.