From Ross Douthat’s recent column at NYTimes.com:
…for all of Catholicism’s problems, the Christian denominations that did not have a Ratzinger — those churches that persisted in the spirit of the 1970s and didn’t reassert a doctrinal core — have generally fared worse. There are millions of lapsed Catholics, but the church still has a higher retention rate by far than most mainline Protestant denominations. Indeed, it is difficult to pick out a major religious body where the progressive course urged by so many of Ratzinger’s critics has increased vitality and growth.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t some further version of reform, some unexpected synthesis of tradition and innovation, that would serve Catholicism well. And if such a path exists, Pope Benedict was probably not the leader to find it.
But he helped ensure that something recognizable as Catholic Christianity would survive into the third millennium. For one man, one lifetime, that was enough.