Catholics around the world just marked Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. But even this holiest period in the Church calendar seemed to be overshadowed by the stunning news just prior. Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, effective Feb. 28.
It was the first time in more than 700 years that a Pope willingly chose to step down. Even the heavens seemed to react with shock as a photographer captured a lightning strike on St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican hours after the pope's announcement.
The most pressing questions are who Benedict's successor will be and what changes, if any, the new pope may introduce.
As pontiffs before him had done, Benedict resisted forces of modernity which called, for example, on a changing role for women. His successor is not likely to change course.
"The pope follows in the teaching of the Church. That's over a 2,000-year-long tradition. A particular pope does not have the freedom to make choices that are contradictory to the tradition," said Rev. Mark Morozowich, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour.
Instead, Morozowich said he believed the next pope will continue to work on the issues of most pressing concern to the Catholic Church, including the sexual abuse scandal which first came to light more than a decade ago in the United States.
"Accountability is the key," said Morozowich. "That a person might fall and might commit a sin is something that I think we all understand. But that these people have been protected and somehow allowed to go on is unconscionable. Benedict has made great steps in seeking forgiveness."
"Vatileaks" was another scandal that plagued the pope's reign. His personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted of aggravated theft for stealing and leaking documents that seemed to shine a light on power struggles, corruption and a lack of transparency at the Vatican.
"The Church continues to need to be transparent in all of its dealings," said Morozowich. "Whether it be in evaluating clergy, whether it be the evaluation of its financial dealings, we have nothing to hide. We should be a very open house."