That is not to say he's leaving because the job has gotten too hard; I don't believe he'd allow himself that kind of an out.
He's been explicit that his personal comfort shouldn't and wouldn't be a factor in any such decision to step down, once saying, "When the danger is great, one must not run away."
Yet it's also true that these have not been easy years for him, both because of the clerical sex abuse scandals and because of the betrayal when the "Vatileaks" documents were leaked from his household.
In many ways, the cloistered Vatican monastery where he's planning to live will be a million miles away from his current life of frequent travel and multi-hour liturgies.
My friend and colleague E.J. Dionne correctly notes that Benedict has neither been as conservative as conservatives would have liked nor as conservative as some of the rest of us feared when the bells rang in St. Peter's Square eight years ago - and in some ways, yes, he sounds like a good American progressive, writing in a December op-ed that "Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God's image and destined for eternal life."
But when we assess his papacy, we really can't do it in strictly secular or conventionally political terms; we need to bring a little realism to the exercise, too.
I see all these looks back that have Benedict down as a known opponent of same-sex marriage, abortion and women's ordination, and I think, well, yes.
But that's like saying such and such rabbi is known for not eating pork.
It would have been true of anyone chosen in the papal conclave of 2005, and it will be true of anyone chosen in the papal conclave of 2013.
And if it surprises you that the guy in charge of orthodox Catholicism will in fact be an orthodox Catholic, well, you are in for an exciting time in the coming weeks.
Henneberger is a Washington Post political writer and anchors the blog, "She the People."