Pope Benedict XVI led the Catholic Church for eight years. What did he do? What has he left for the next pope to do?
His peers elected a conservative traditionalist, a professor of theology, who for more than 20 years had been Prefect of The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – an organ that is also empowered to promote and safeguard morals in the whole Catholic world, working to keep relativism and secular society at bay. So he would continue.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was made the first German pope in 1,000 years. But the last one could say what he liked, while Benedict quickly offended modern political correctness.
In a speech in Regensburg he quoted a 14th Century Byzantine Christian emperor, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new; you will find only evil and inhuman things, such as his command to spread the faith he preached by the sword.”
Followers of Islam were deeply offended. Catholic churches were attacked. Benedict said he had been misunderstood, and that he had meant to appeal for frank and sincere dialogue. He offered prayers at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but Muslims stayed wary.
The Jews also had their ups and downs with the pope. He prayed at the Wall of Lamentations in Jerusalem, and he spoke of the Catholic Church’s “compassion” for the victims of the Holocaust, but he did not confront the plaque at Yad Vashem which speaks of “silence and the absence of guidelines” from the Vatican during World War Two.
Benedict re-authorised an old form of the Latin mass which includes prayers calling for the Jews to convert to Catholicism. And he lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who was a public Holocaust denier, Richard Williamson, who had called the Jews the enemies of Christ. The Vatican said the Holy Father had not been aware of Williamson’s views.
On his first visit to Africa in 2009, Benedict raised a storm over the welfare of many millions of vulnerable people, saying that condoms were not a solution to HIV/Aids, and could even increase the problem. The following year he softened, saying the use of condoms could be justified in some exceptional circumstances.
The sexual abuse of children by priests and the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to act on the knowledge in the past brought recurrent outrage during Benedict’s papacy. He said the guilty must “answer before God for the sinful and criminal actions”. But none went before an ordinary court.
Benedict XVI said: “I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious [people] in this country. Indeed, I am deeply sorry.”
Benedict also leaves to his successor the Vati-leaks scandal to clean up – the falling into media hands of documents which are alleged to reveal corruption in the Holy See.