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Associated Press
FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2006, file photo, Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd at the end of a papal Mass in Regensburg, southern Germany, some 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) northeast of Munich. When Benedict steps down on Feb. 28, 2013, his reputation as a brilliant theologian will remain intact. But he fell short of the mark he set for himself on unifying the church, building relationships with other religions and restoring the church's influence in broader society. During his 2006 visit to Regensburg, he was sharply criticized by Muslims when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman." (AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool, File)

The world is an increasingly secular one in which opinion leaders often treat religion with disdain. People of faith are told their notions of God and morality aren't fit companions for modernity. Calls come from every quarter for churches to compromise, to give in, to "get with the times."

Pope Benedict XVI failed to heed those calls, and the world is a better place as a result.

When Pope Benedict XVI took office in 2005, many critics insisted that he was ill-suited to stand at the head of a 21st century church. They were hoping for a pontiff who would not be tied to the moral foundations of the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which the Roman Catholic Church has been so integral. Thankfully, they wouldn't find such a man in the former Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, who announced his resignation from the papacy on Monday. Pope Benedict proved to be a leader of unwavering integrity and commitment who refused to retreat from the tenets of the faith he was chosen to lead.

In one of his first addresses after assuming office, the pope decried the shifting moral standards that characterize the current spiritual environment. "Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism, which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires," he said. "And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego."

Pope Benedict XVI has been a tireless advocate for the idea that moral principles remain constant, and that personal fealty to those principles and faith in God are more relevant today than they ever have been. He has written extensively about these concepts with both clarity and power. Indeed, the current pontiff has been credited as being one of the most thoughtful and adept theologians ever to hold the office.

That is not say, however, that Pope Benedict is either inflexible or unteachable. His ecumenical efforts have drawn praise from many who do not share his faith, and his outreach to Judaism and the Eastern Orthodox Church demonstrated a genuine willingness to listen and to adapt. In every circumstance, he has been a man who has fully dedicated his life to the improvement of the human condition.

We wish him well in his retirement. He will be sorely missed.