Much commentary has flowed as a result and I am supportive of this resignation, partly, because it removes the papacy from a cult of personality and makes it a ministry for the broader Church. This, I think, is a good thing both from a spiritual and governance point of view. Added to this, Benedict XVI is a wise man, not an administrator by any means, but a smart theologian steeped firmly in the history of the Church and acutely aware of the problems of the institution in a (post)modern world. His action is a sober reflection on his own ability to govern in light of his health and the challenges of the office and in this, I think, that he provides a positive role model to people who arrive at a decision that they are no longer able to fulfill roles. This is not a personal failure - far from it! It is the opposite of being ego-centric and narcissistic.
Cardinal Newman wrote of the dangers of a long papacy as the risk of corruption increases, inconsistency develops, and general decay of effectiveness ensues. Recall, that is was under Benedict's pontificate that Cardinal Newman was beatified.
There will be, in the months ahead, a sober analysis of his pontificate and already there is commentary on the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Church. Recently, it was revealed that Cardinal Mahony, while cardinal in Los Angeles, was involved in hiding and moving priests accused of molestation. Such conduct is criminal and he should be facing charges. That he is eligible to vote, and will in fact be voting, in the conclave is a scandal that needs to be addressed far better than it has been. Certainly, Benedict XVI was aware of these problems as he had been prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II. At that time, the CDF handled such reports. To be fair, when he was elected he did strip the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, Marcel Maciel, of any honours and committed him to a life of penance. Maciel had been credibly accused of abuse of seminarians under his care as well as funneling money away from the order for his mistress and their child.
Benedict XVI permitted more generous celebration of the so called Latin mass (referred to as the extraordinary form now) and outreach to disaffected conservative groups like the SSPX.
He was and is a scholar, theologian, and biblical exegete. His volumes on Jesus of Nazareth are good readings.
Jody Bottum had some unkind, and to my mind unfair, things to say in his assessment. Comparing him to the last pope who resigned in 1294, St. Celestine (Pope Celestine V), Bottum wrote, "The truth is, however, that if proper governance of the church—doing the hard administrative work needed to sail that ship of the fisherman, St. Peter—were all that is required of a pope, then Benedict should have resigned long ago. His aging has brought little new; he has been, all in all, a terrible executive of the Vatican. Not in San Celestino’s league, of course, but as bad as a pope has been for 200 years."
Bottum feels, and I profoundly disagree, that resignation is dangerous precedent.
"Besides, there remains the problem of political theory that the aftermath of San Celestino’s abdication taught us. If popes can resign, then popes can be forced to resign, notwithstanding the fact that the church believes they are chosen with guidance from the Holy Spirit. And after they resign, what then? What are we to do with them? The sheer presence of a retired pope in a Vatican monastery may prove a burden and distraction for his successor. And if, with Benedict in 2013, a retired pope does not seem to pose a direct political threat, that hardly insures that no future retired pope will prove so. The political portions are part of the pope’s job, too...
That’s something, one suspects, that the ascetic monk Peter of Morrone didn’t grasp while serving as Pope Celestine V, saint though he was. It’s something that Joseph Ratzinger seems to have ignored as Pope Benedict XVI, saint though he too may be".
As with all things, history will arrive at an assessment but God alone can judge.