is an associate professor and the chair of
the Department of Religious Studies at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.
Benedict XVI began his papacy with a reputation for being very conservative, and he has done little since to call that into question. But in announcing last week that he would resign from office, this traditional pope did one of the most modern things he could do - and, in doing so, has perhaps changed the way the Catholic Church thinks of its leader.
As head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition), Benedict - then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - was charged with guarding orthodox Catholic teaching and occasionally silencing those who deviated from it. As pope, he returned to the use of more traditional vestments, presided over a gradual reversion to a more traditional liturgy, and spoke strongly against modern relativism and secularism. He also strengthened and promoted traditional church teachings on marriage and other subjects. He did not seem like an innovator, and no one really expected him to be.