I certainly was surprised to hear of the Pope's impending abdication, but shall reserve judgement until I find out who will be his replacement. He certainly set a good example for other gerontocrats, and I hope many of them follow his example, beginning with Silvio Berlusconi and John McCain. Both of them, of late, have been more trouble than they're worth.
I never cared for Ratzinger who, as leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul (whose primary theology seemed to consist of anti-Communism and anti-anything-else-vaguely-resembling-Communism), led the pogrom against the Liberation Theologists, especially in Latin America. Read the history, and it looks incontrovertibly pro-fascist.
Benedict was better at persecuting Catholic socialist priests than at stopping pedophile priests from diddling altar boys. Jesus, you might recall, was a socialist, not a pedophile. Also, when Benedict retires to a monastery inside Vatican City, he'll be out of reach of those who want to know what he knows about kiddie diddling. Well, he may not know a hell of a lot — top level executives seldom do — but he has to know something.
One might hope the College of Cardinals will select a new Pope just a little more liberal than John Paul or Benedict, but don't count on it. John Paul and Benedict left the College of Cardinals pretty much the same way George W left the United States Supreme Court — weighed down with conservatives. If they skip over the front-runners, and pick an African Pope — and a lot of developing world Catholics are holding their breaths hoping for that — you can bet that African Pope will be even more conservative than any of the Europeans in the running. They execute homosexuals in much of Africa.
The Italians (who are a lot less religious than they are Catholic) really would hate that — or, at least, their calcio (soccer) fans would hate it, judging by all the recent racist rhetoric about Mario Balotelli and a couple of Muslim drafts. I suspect the Süden Deutsch also will be less than thrilled.
Those of us in the civilized world (wherever the hell we are) should not expect much. After we're all dead, our progeny or our progeny's progeny's progeny may be able to look back on what happened — if they're allowed.