On January 30 I attended the Holy Father's Wednesday Audience.
His mind was as sharp as ever. During the German-speaking portion of his talk, he spoke at length, and extemporaneously, teaching like a professor, gesturing with his free hand as though to emphasize certain points. He spoke about God like one who knows God on every level, as a theologian and as a thoroughly committed Christian.
But the Holy Father's physical weakness was evident, and quite sad. Several times, the cameras faded to crowd shots so that his assistants could bring him a drink of water. Except when he is very animated--when he is teaching, and trying to get a point across--he does not sit quite or stand quite straight anymore.
All sorts of people are probably saying all sorts of things. It's the kind of interesting occurrence that makes everyone into his own little Dan Brown. But isn't this just the exact opposite of a Vatican conspiracy. Instead of taking power, the Holy Father is laying his power down.
I agree wholeheartedly with Jeffrey's point made below, that the Holy Father's legacy is solidified through this gesture. I don't think that is the Holy Father's motivation, but it will be the outcome. It is a little like the legacy of our own George Washington, whose last public act, that of making room for another President, was arguably his greatest. This comparison has very serious limits, of course. The Church is not made a democracy by the resignation of the Pope. But it is very evidently the Church of which Christ is the leader, and of which we are all the servants of one another. "The greatest among you must serve the needs of all."
Kathleen Pluth, S.T.L., hymn writer, catechist, and schola director, currently studying for the S.T.D. in Rome