The Troubled Legacy of Pope Benedict

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who led the Catholic Church for eight years between 2005 and 2013, has died at his Vatican residence at the age of 95.

Benedict was notoriously unwell, with Pope Francis Wednesday describing him as “very ill” and asking for prayers to help his successor “to the end.”

In February 2013, Benedict, a theological conservative, shocked the world by announcing that he would become the first pope since Gregory XII. would resign from office in 1415. After his resignation and being replaced by Pope Francis, he continued to reside in the Vatican. Adoption of the name Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. after his resignation.

Benedikt was born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927 in the German Weimar Republic. He had a tumultuous childhood, witnessing the rise of the Nazis and World War II. Drafted into the Hitler Youth, Benedikt lost a 14-year-old cousin with Down syndrome who was abducted by the Nazis as part of their eugenics program and pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square during his weekly audience September 26, 2012 at the Vatican. Benedict died at the age of 95, leaving behind a complex legacy.
Franco Origlia/GETTY

The later Pope began his service in the Catholic Church in 1951 when he was appointed pastor of the parish of St. Martin, Moosach, in Munich. He became a professor at the University of Bonn and later held various other positions at the Universities of Münster, Tübingen and Regensburg.

Originally viewed as a reformer, Benedict became increasingly conservative, particularly after the western world was rocked by a series of mass protests, some violent, in 1968.

In 1977 Benedict was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising and four years later received the post of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from Pope John Paul II, who held him responsible for the eradication of heresy in the Church. He was promoted to Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993 and continued to rise in the Church hierarchy until he was elected the 265thth Pope in 2005, aged 78, following the death of Pope John Paul II.

Speak with news week Professor Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire and an expert on Catholicism, argued that Benedict’s legacy was “overshadowed” by some of his socially conservative views.

She said: “I think Benedict’s legacy will always be overshadowed in public opinion by his long tenure as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his role as the moral enforcer of the Church’s renewed opposition to gay rights and women’s ordination, contraception and abortion.

“Even as Pope – although he did not focus on these issues but on the principles of love, social justice and the common good – his personal reserve and intellectualism stood in the way of his ability to connect with ordinary Catholics.”

Professor Megan Armstrong, who teaches Catholic history at Canada’s McMaster University, described Benedict as a “social conservative and papal traditionalist” from a tradition that includes “wide differences in ideas about papal and priestly authority, spiritual celibacy, the role of women and sexuality.” and many other subjects.”

However, Benedict’s “single-minded pursuit of his theological vision blinded him to the serious pastoral problems plaguing the church,” said Sheila Briggs of the University of Southern California, associate professor of religion and gender studies.

A bombastic report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany, published in early 2022, concluded that Benedict had not knowingly taken action against priests involved in four abuse cases during his time as Archbishop of Munich.

In response, Benedict released a statement expressing his “deep sadness” and his “sincere request for forgiveness.”

In response to the report, Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, claimed that Benedict imposed “very strict norms against clerical abusers,” both as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as pope.

Speak with news week Briggs said that as Archbishop of Munich, Benedict “disciplined politically active priests while ignoring clerical sexual abusers,” which she says contributed to “the church’s worst crisis since the 16th-century Reformation.”

She concluded: “Benedict had an excellent intellect and a keen theological mind, capable of personal empathy, but had an extremely poor understanding of the world in which he lived.”

Dillon added that the Munich report “contributes to the view that Benedict is “aloof from the everyday reality of Catholics, including victims of sexual abuse.”

However, she noted that he was the “first pope to actually officially apologize to Catholics for the sexual abuse of priests and bishops,” which he did in a March 2010 letter to Irish Catholics.

James Lewis Heft of the University of Southern California news week Benedict was “the first Pope to take the sex abuse crisis seriously”.

He described the former pope as a “brilliant theologian”. Heft added that Benedikt’s decision to resign in 2013 was “a great act of courage and realism” and that “he felt more comfortable in the library than in the Vatican”.

Speak with news week Professor Kathleen Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, described Benedict as “a man of unshakable faith, deep conviction, and towering intellect who left an indelible mark on the Church.”

She concluded: “At the moment we await a papal funeral without a conclave, an unprecedented event that reflects the experience of March 2013, a conclave without a papal funeral.” The Troubled Legacy of Pope Benedict

Rick Schindler

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