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Benedict XVI is a good man but a poor pope. His resignation shakes something of the foundations of the world.

"The Pope, how many divisions does he have?" the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once mocked.

But the papacy is still alive and strong while Soviet communism resides in the dustbin of history.

Benedict was always going to have a hard time following in the footsteps of John Paul II, the most charismatic, and perhaps the most influential, pope in the 20th century.

But he disappointed even his closest supporters.

He was a fine theologian and a gifted teacher but a truly terrible administrator, with little sense of how to marshal the vast but disparate resources which the papacy commands.

One of the key figures in his election as pope seven years ago was Australia's Cardinal George Pell.

Pell is unique in the history of Australian Catholicism.

There have been hugely influential Australian church leaders before, such as the controversial Daniel Mannix, archbishop of Melbourne for several decades.

And there have been a few Australian cardinals who have become influential inside the Vatican.

Pell is a unique combination of both roles.

He played a role in Benedict's election and is bound to play an important role in the election of the next pope.

He could easily end up as the Vatican secretary of state. There could even be some votes for Pell as pope himself.

But that remains to be seen.

Benedict deserves praise for the courage of his resignation, surely the most difficult, and in a sense radical, decision of his life.