Benedict is seen as the most intellectual pontiff in generations , but he was never quite able to exude the charisma that made Pope John Paul II a beloved figure among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. "He had a hard act to follow in John Paul, who was bigger than life. Benedict suffered by comparison because he was much more shy, he wasn't an actor, he preferred to write books and issue encyclicals rather than travel," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic writer and former editor of "America," a Catholic magazine.
Reese said Benedict would be remembered as the pope who "cleaned up sex abuse" because he demanded that bishops around the world institute more extensive preventative procedures, the way the U.S. church has. However, only a minuscule number of clergy worldwide have been held accountable for sexual abuse and removed from their positions, which Reese acknowledged "has been a problem. . . . However, he did a lot more than Pope John Paul did."
At various times, Benedict made statements — some say gaffes — that included what critics called slights against Protestants, Muslims and Jews.
"He will be remembered as a conservative pope," said John Pollard, an expert on the modern papacy at Cambridge University. "People will remember his conservatism, moral high ground over same-sex marriage, women priests and contraception, his involvement in dealing with the pedophile scandals."
Benedict departs amid a sense of crisis in a Vatican still reeling from a litany of scandals and at a time when questions of reform are dividing Roman Catholics worldwide.
The most recent problems facing the church involve a bevy of documents leaked by the pope's personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, to Italian journalists and alleging corruption and heated disputes within the marbled Vatican walls.