The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 to end a dispute among competing papal claimants.
Given the surprising nature of the announcement, there are no obvious front-runners. The cardinals are now expected to meet in early March for the conclave, the secret meeting to elect a new pope. Just as in 2005, when Pope Benedict was elected, there is likely to be pressure from faithful in developing countries to elect a pope from Africa, Asia or Latin America. Those are the regions where the Catholic faith is thriving.
Still, "there's no consensus around a single name," said Sandro Magister, a longtime Vatican analyst….
Vatican officials also say the church would benefit from a strong hand capable of managing a Vatican administration that has become increasingly unwieldy as it has grown in size. One example is the Vatican Bank, which manages funds for religious orders across the world. The notoriously secretive financial institution is in the middle of a delicate overhaul that has drawn scrutiny from international regulators.
“You need somebody who can run a tight ship,” a senior Vatican official said.
Even among the doctrinal “consistencies” between the last two popes, other things have gotten out of hand “down home”. John Paul II was certainly not seen as having run a tight ship. And Benedict XVI is resigning because of his own infirmities. While there is speculation about a pope from Africa or Latin America, I think that the down-home boys would rather have someone who they can trust to put the house in order.