It so happens that the Holy Father, who is six months older than Schall, announced his retirement about six months after Schall announced his. As far as we know, no causal connection can be established, though several of my friends suspect collusion. In fact, the pope’s intentions to retire have been hinted at all along by his attention to previously resigned popes. His given reasons are pretty much the same ones that I use—one grows weaker with age; no one wants to leave an institution in emergency situations.
When Benedict first announced his resignation, I assumed that he would return to some appropriately quiet convent in Germany for his last years, perhaps with his priest brother. Or he might go to the Villa Helios, run by some German nuns on the Isle of Capri, at which the German Jesuits at the Gregorian University in Rome liked to stay when I was there. On second thought, Benedict is also an historian. Any reader of Tacitus would know about the unsettling residence of the Emperors Tiberius and Caligula on Capri. Too much unwelcome symbolism would be seen in such a move. Evidently Benedict will stay in the Vatican.
The mechanism for the election of a successor to Benedict is now in place. My chances of accurately picking the new pope are about the same as my chances of picking the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament in March or the winner of the Kentucky Derby in May. We presume that something more is at work in the selection of a new pope than pure luck.
Since at least Pius IX in the 1800s, the Catholic Church has had at its helm a series of rather outstanding men. The last two popes certainly have been extraordinary, almost as if they were “chosen” by powers beyond the capacities of the men who selected them. No political institution with its “democratic” or hereditary processes for selecting presidents and leaders can match that record over time.