First, I really like the nod to practicality. The Pope needs to maintain a schedule that would be demanding for even a younger man (I'm thinking about how quickly US Presidents seem to age while in office), and Benedict is 85. He will decline if he remains in office, and I think he is correct in thinking that the church does not benefit much having a slowly dying man at the helm. But think about where that thinking goes: the most important thing about the position of Pope is that of a leader, who can and should step down when he can no longer lead. He is, in other words, bound by the same considerations that effect other leaders. That Benedict, a strict doctrinaire by reputation, seems to believe that is a pleasant surprise. I'm actually hopeful that, if this process goes somewhat smoothly, it will create future expectations within the leadership of the church that popes will retire when they become incapable of performing the functions of the office. It might also encourage the college of Cardinals to consider more unusual candidates. I can understand not wanting to consider someone you don't completely trust if you expect them to remain in power for decades, but if the option to retire, or even force retirement, is available that might make the electors more willing to consider an unorthodox candidate.
Hmm, class is ending, so I guess I'd better wrap this up. A couple of newsmen have some interesting perspectives on this, and my opinion is certainly informed by their today.