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Pope Benedict's tenure marked by controversy

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Pope Benedict's tenure marked by controversy


The 19th of April, 2005. The white smoke billowed out and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger becomes Pope Benedict XVI.

In the five years since that day, the successor to the much-loved John Paul II seems to have been dogged by controversy.

There have been rows with other religions, as well as disapproval both from the international community and disagrement with progressive elements within the Catholic Church itself.

Some say the Pope has weakend the power and influence of the Vatican and has dug deeper divisions between Catholics themselves. In 2007, traditionalists were delighted when he issued a declaration allowing the old Latin mass to be celebrated more widely.

But the most resounding rows have been on a wider scale. This speech at Regensburg University in 2006 caused outrage in the muslim world.

“Show me exactly what is new about what Mohammed had to say. You will find his words only contain evil and inhuman ideas, like his order to spread the faith he preached by the sword,” the Pope told the audience.

The Pope apologised and argued in vain that he had been quoted out of context. But the damage was done and the Muslim community was up in arms. The same would happen with the Jews.

Auschwitz, May 2006. When the Pope describes the Holocaust as the work of a “band of criminals”, the Jewish people felt this was an oblique attempt to exonerate the German people, to whom Joseph Ratzinger belongs.

The tension was rekindled in 2009, when the beatification of Pope Pius XII was fast-tracked. He is accused of staying silent in the face of the persecution of Jews during the Second World War.

Many were also angered when the Pope lifted the excommunications of four ultra-traditionalist bishops, one of them a Holocaust denier.

March 2009. Another crisis. Benedict came in for criticism when he claimed, en route for Africa, that condoms made the HIV-AIDS crisis worse.

“The problem of AIDS cannot be solved by simply handing out contraceptives. On the contrary, this would make it worse,” the Pontiff said.

Arguably, all this would eventually have blown over if not for the most devastating of scandals, that of sexual and physical abuse by priests.

For many years, Pope Benedict was in charge of safeguarding the Church’s doctrine and morals. And this while abuse was known to be happening.

“The whole legacy of the Pope is going to be filtered, or may be filtered through the lens of these attacks and how he has reacted to them.” said Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside Vatican magazine.

There are those who say that while there is no doubt Benedict XVI is an excellent theologian, he has failed to give clear and constant guidance to the Vatican itself, unlike his predecessor John Paul II.

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