So he's the first Pope to step down in 628 years, give or take, and the last one to do so was one of three Popes at the time. (The other two were referred to as Anti-Popes. So why did he step down instead of them?) I, being on the road, have been listening to the commentary on the radio all day, in between the MPR pledge drive bits, of course. Even the BBC, which is lent an hour of airtime over here, did their man-on-the-street interviews.
Two reactions came across with great regularity, worldwide. Either Pope Benedict was courageous, not sitting around to wait to die and leave the Church untended by actual holy leadership while all the political wanna-bes grabbed whatever power they could, or he was compared unfavorably to his predecessor, the guy who was not a quitter, and did sit around waiting to die while the political wanna-bes grabbed all the power they could while the Church was untended by actual holy leadership.
I guess to be interviewed you had to be Catholic for your opinion to count. That's just an observation, an aside to the question.
Benedict was close enough to watch the physical and mental deterioration of his predecessor in office. It doesn't take a genius to realize he didn't like what he saw and wanted to set a different example. Whether or not you are Catholic, or even Christian, whether or not you find any Pope holy or chosen by God, one can understand that decision - at least from a secular point of view. Other people retire, step down, abdicate. Pick a term. Ordinary people recognize their physical, and perhaps even their mental deterioration, and stop carrying their loads. They aren't called quitters, or expected to go till they drop dead, whatever kind of job they're doing.
One of the effects of his stepping down might be the humanizing of future Popes. This may very well be one of his most important legacies. Of course, there's also the part about not leaving the Church leaderless for a few years while he waits to die. That tells me he cares more about the job than his personal power.
I do hope he gets recognized for it. In this debate, I come down on the side of courage.