When night falls Thursday over Vatican City, there will be no pope in residence.
After nearly eight tumultuous years at the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Benedict XVI has made the almost unprecedented decision to stand down.
That resignation, which takes effect at 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), opens up the prospect of unforeseen opportunities and challenges for the Roman Catholic Church.
As Benedict closes the door behind him, many are wondering whether a new pontiff will choose to lead the church in a different direction - and can lift it out of the mire of scandal that has bogged down this pope's time in office.
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