VATICAN CITY -- Just days after Pope Benedict XVI returned from a 2010 trip to Britain where he met the queen and mended fences with the Anglicans, prosecutors in Rome impounded $30 million from the Vatican Bank in an investigation linked to money laundering.
In May, soon after the pope made an address on the priesthood, chastising those who sought to stretch the church's rules and calling for "radical obedience," Vatican gendarmes arrested Benedict's butler on charges of theft after a tell-all book appeared, based on stolen confidential documents detailing profound mismanagement and corruption inside the Vatican.
Benedict had hoped that his papacy would rekindle the Catholic faith in Europe and compel Catholics to forge bonds between faith and reason, as he so loved to do.
But after a seemingly endless series of scandals, the 85-year-old who so ably enforced doctrine for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, seemingly came to understand that only a new pope, one with far greater energies than he, could lead a global church and clean house inside the hierarchy at its helm. In the end, Vatican experts said, he decided he could best serve the church by resigning, a momentous decision with far-reaching implications that are still not fully understood.
"It wasn't one thing, but a whole combination of them" that caused him to resign, said Paolo Rodari, a Vatican expert at the Italian daily newspaper Il Foglio. Clerical sex abuse scandals battered the papacy relentlessly, erupting in the United States, Ireland and across Europe, all the way to Australia.
But the most recent, the scandal involving the butler, "was a constant drumbeat on the pope," he said, hitting close to home -- literally where the pope lived. In the end, Mr. Rodari said, the message was, "I can't change things, so I will erase everything."
While the pope clearly has been losing strength in recent years, some Vatican experts saw Benedict's decision less as a sign of frailty than one of strength that sent a clear message -- and a challenge -- to the Vatican prelates whose misdeeds he had struggled to rein in: No one is irreplaceable, not even the pope.
Even the Vatican acknowledged this. "The pope is someone of great realism," the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said on Tuesday. "And he knows very well what the problems and the difficulties are."
Father Lombardi added: "I think this decision sends many messages to all of us, of humility, courage, of wisdom in evaluating one's situation before God." The resignation could "open the door for a potential wave of resignations" -- including from within the administrative body known as the Curia, Massimo Franco, a political columnist at the Corriere della Sera daily newspaper and an expert in relations between Italy and the Vatican, wrote on Tuesday.
A weak manager further weakened by age -- the Vatican said for the first time on Tuesday that the pope had a pacemaker -- Benedict apparently no longer felt equal to the task of governing an institution that had lacked a strong leader for over a decade, ever since John Paul II began a slow descent into Parkinson's disease.
It was another scandal-marred trip, this one to Mexico and Cuba in March, that seems to have finally persuaded Benedict to consider the idea of stepping aside, Vatican officials said.
The visit to Mexico was haunted by the specter of the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful and deeply conservative religious order with close ties to John Paul's papacy. Before he died in 2008, Father Maciel was found to have raped seminarians, fathered several children and engaged in drug abuse.
Throughout the visit, victims' groups and other advocates organized news conferences and other events to call attention to what they saw as the church's dismal record on sexual abuse, even though Benedict, as the Vatican's chief doctrinal officer, had reopened an investigation into Father Maciel that ultimately disclosed his double life. But he failed to address the issue in Mexico, upsetting victims' groups there and around the world. When he became pope, Benedict knew of what he spoke, but he struggled to make the mighty wheels of a 1,000-year-old bureaucracy turn smoothly.
Benedict's first missteps were seen as problems of communications. When in 2006 he quoted a Byzantine emperor saying Islam had brought things "evil and inhuman," remarks that helped provoke riots in which several people died, the Vatican said his words had been misinterpreted. Clearly pained, he visited Turkey as a way to make amends.
In 2009, when Benedict lifted the excommunication of four schismatic bishops, one of whom had denied the scope of the Holocaust, the Vatican -- and the pope -- said the gesture was aimed at healing a rift in the church, not at offending. Officials also admitted they had failed to use the Internet to research the bishop's views.
But later that same year, when the Vatican shocked many, including the archbishop of Canterbury, by announcing a new structure to welcome traditionalist Anglicans back into Catholicism, it became clear that the crisis of communications might in fact be a crisis of governance.
The Vatican official then in charge of the church's relations with Anglicans, Cardinal Walter Kasper, said he had not been informed of the new structure, which had been announced in an impromptu news conference by a different Vatican office when he was out of town.
As a theologian intent on making overtures to the more traditionalist elements of the church, and lacking John Paul's charisma, Benedict was bound to ruffle some feathers. But the fatal flaw of his papacy, Vatican experts say, and a leading cause of the scandals and missteps, is that he did not choose the right deputies to make the institution run well.
"The daily running of the shop is in such disarray because he doesn't consult with anybody," said Robert Mickens, a Vatican expert for The Tablet, a London-based Catholic weekly.
"The major problem of this pontificate is his choice of Bertone as secretary of state, and his insistence in keeping him there," he added, referring to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. "This has angered and alienated people. He put a non-diplomat in the office that deals mostly with people who were trained to be diplomats, and he's not very diplomatic."
Vatican experts speculate that the scandal over the butler leaking confidential information was part of a complex power battle within the Vatican by factions that wanted to undermine Cardinal Bertone, a canon lawyer and a former archbishop of Genoa.
In January 2012, letters emerged in the Italian news media and later a book, "Your Holiness," in which a high-ranking Vatican official said he had discovered corruption and mismanagement in the awarding of construction contracts and said that Cardinal Bertone had been influenced by Italian political circles.
In a letter, the official, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, then the second-ranking official of the part of the Curia that administers Vatican City, implored both Benedict and Cardinal Bertone to allow him to stay in a job overseeing the Holy See's financial affairs. Instead, Benedict transferred Archbishop Viganò to become the papal nuncio, a diplomatic post, in Washington.
And he stood by Cardinal Bertone even after the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested in May 2012 on charges he took confidential documents that wound up in the book. In October, Mr. Gabriele was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest in the Vatican, but over the Christmas holidays, Benedict pardoned him.
Mr. Franco wrote in Corriere della Sera that Benedict was believed to be distraught by a secret report compiled by the three cardinals that the pope had appointed to investigate the leaks scandal.
As the scandals piled up, it was clear that the pope was increasingly tired, his voice strained, his face drained. But although the resignation was related to a series of painful personal defeats, Benedict's act was expected to resonate through history.
"It's revolutionary," said Eamon Duffy, a professor of the history of Christianity at Cambridge. "He's sweeping away the mystical in favor of the utilitarian: That being a pope is a job, and the pope must be in the condition to do the job."
Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome, and Laurie Goodstein from New York.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.