"We're very much in uncharted water. I mean the last time this happened Columbus had no discovered the new world. You know? It was 1415," Dr. Tom Bolin, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, St. Norbert College.
Plans are already underway to create a place where the soon-to-be former pope can spend his remaining time in seclusion. Dr. Bolin believes much of that time will be spent writing. As for the pope's legacy, two aspects will likely prevail. First the clergy sex abuse scandals.
"That will have to be on the table. Because that certainly has been one of the most profile crises that the Catholic Church has faced," said Dr. Bolin.
The second will be Pope Benedict's efforts to clarify Vatican Two reforms including in academics and worship.
"I think he thought the way that masses were celebrated there was a little too much, you know, improvisational or freedom going on with the way mass should be celebrated," said Bolin.
Other local theologians praise the pontiff's decision to put church ahead of self.
"If he's saying: 'My health doesn't allow me to do what I need to do for the job." I think it's a great decision to say it's time for someone else and I'm going to step aside, which is courageous," said Fr. Jay Fostner, St. Norbert College Vice President for Missions and Student Affairs.
Dr. Bolin says the pope's appointment of cardinals in 2012 likely indicates his successor will be non-European.
"The first one (consistory of 2012) was very Italilan-heavy. The one in December, there were no Italians," Bolin said."It'll be very interesting to see what happens going into the conclave."
Local 5's Terry Kovarik has the story.