The world was utterly unprepared for Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation earlier this month.
Among the questions swirling around in the wake of the announcement was one offered by my wife, who likely spoke for many when she wondered: "Who will feed the Vatican's cats from now on?"
Cat fanciers worldwide are aware of the reports that the pontiff regularly feeds the many cats that frequent his garden, and looks after their health besides.
Well, upon retirement, he reportedly will continue his feline ministry.
If Benedict expected appreciation for what must have been a courageous decision to step down after fewer than eight years as Holy Father, he has reason to be disappointed.
When his popular predecessor, John Paul II, was plagued by ill health in his final decade as pope, Benedict (then a cardinal) predicted, according to reports, that if John Paul "sees that he absolutely cannot do it anymore, then certainly he will resign."
It did not happen.
After Benedict's announcement last week, it was reported that he had been fitted with a pacemaker a decade ago and with new batteries just three months ago.
Not 24 hours had passed after his announcement when the long knives of his critics came out.
Newspapers reminded readers that, in 2010, prosecutors in Rome impounded $30 million from the Vatican Bank in a money-laundering investigation. And that, in May 2012, Benedict's butler was charged with theft and arrested, based on stolen documents that claimed serious mismanagement and corruption inside the Vatican.
Although charges of child sex abuse by Catholic priests date from the late 20th century, the full force of the scandals fell on the church during Benedict's papacy.
Reporting from Vatican City in The New York Times, Rachel Donadio called Benedict "a weak manager further weakened by age," and speculated that "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."
On occasion, Benedict inadvertently managed to offend Muslims and Protestants.
"The daily running of the shop is in such disarray because he doesn't consult with anybody," the Times quoted Robert Mickens, a Vatican expert for The Tablet, a London-based Catholic weekly.
Many American Catholics criticized Benedict for upholding old doctrines on sexual morality and for clerical insensitivity, notably for muzzling U.S. nuns who seek to speak out on social justice.
The Catholic author Gary Wills argued in the Times that "the claims of priest and popes to be the sole conduits of grace is a remnant of the era of papal monarchy. We are watching that era fade."
Perhaps, but even angry Catholics are unlikely to begrudge the retired pope the affection of his homeless cats.
(David Yount is the author of 14 books, including "Breaking Through God's Silence." He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22193 and firstname.lastname@example.org.)