One year ago, Pope Benedict announced his resignation. I had just returned to Rome ahead of the publication of my book, and some of my journalistic colleagues thought I'd been tipped off. Not exactly. I had been emailing some of those same colleagues in previous weeks, wondering whether the pope might be preparing to resign. But when it actually happened, I was as shocked as anyone.
Looking back, I think Benedict's decision stands out for its courage and humility. I was among those who foresaw potential problems with "two popes" -- one retired, one active -- but experience has proved me wrong on that. The church has not suffered divided allegiances. On the other hand, there has been heightened sensitivity, at the Vatican and among many Catholic faithful, to any criticism of Benedict's pontificate. In view of Pope Francis' great popularity, finding fault with Benedict has become the third rail of Vatican commentary. I suspect it will take some time before that disappears.
I wrote a brief reflection here on the anniversary of Benedict's announcement for the blog Il Sismografo, a valuable clearinghouse for online news about the Vatican.