Benedict’s lasting mark on papacy will be his resignation

Dec 30, 2022, 10:55 PM | Updated: Dec 31, 2022, 12:59 pm
FILE - Pope John Paul II places his hands on the shoulders of West German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger...

FILE - Pope John Paul II places his hands on the shoulders of West German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, archbishop of Munich and Freising, on Oct. 22, 1978, during the solemn inauguration of his ministry as universal Pastor of the Church in Vatican City. As John Paul’s right-hand man on doctrinal matters, Ratzinger wrote documents reinforcing church teaching opposing homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia, and asserting that salvation can only be found in the Catholic Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo, File)

(AP Photo, File)

              FILE - Construction work is being done on Feb. 14, 2013, on the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery inside the Vatican State, where Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will live in retirement. Benedict largely kept to his word that he would live a lifetime of prayer and meditation “hidden to the world” in the converted monastery in the Vatican gardens. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI leaves after greeting the faithful from the balcony window of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where he will spend his first post-Vatican days and made his last public blessing as pope, on Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI waves from the balcony window of the Pontifical summer residence in Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome, to a cheering crowd gathered to see him on Feb. 28, 2013, the day he ended his pontificate. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)
            
              FILE - A helicopter with Pope Benedict XVI onboard leaves the Vatican to take him to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome, to spend the first months of his retirement, on Feb. 28, 2013. Benedict chose Feb. 11, 2013 -- a Vatican holiday, with a routine audience with his cardinals -- to make the historic announcement in Latin that he would become the first pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI leaves after celebrating his final general audience before retiring, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on Feb. 27, 2013. Benedict chose Feb. 11, 2013 -- a Vatican holiday, with a routine audience with his cardinals -- to make the historic announcement in Latin that he would become the first pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI walks past a Swiss guard on Feb. 13, 2013, as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience, his first public appearance since dropping the bombshell announcement of his resignation, in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Benedict chose Feb. 11, 2013 -- a Vatican holiday, with a routine audience with his cardinals -- to make the historic announcement in Latin that he would become the first pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims at the end of a papal Mass at Islinger field in Regensburg, southern Germany, on Sept. 12, 2006. Benedict roiled the Islamic world with his speech at Regensburg when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly his command to spread the faith “by the sword." Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges faithful during his weekly general audience in Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican on Feb. 4, 2009, a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on him to make a "very clear" rejection of Holocaust denials after the Vatican's rehabilitation of a former bishop who questioned whether 6 million Jews were gassed by the Nazis. Benedict XVI enraged Jewish groups when he rehabilitated the Holocaust-denying bishop, a scandal that he admitted could have been avoided if someone at the Vatican had done a simple internet search of the bishop’s name. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
            
              FILE - Pope Benedict XVI presents a Jewish codex book to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, right, during his visit to the Park East Synagogue in New York on April 18, 2008. Benedict made outreach to Jews a hallmark of his papacy and, in one of his most significant acts, he made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Christ. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin, File)
            
              FILE - Pope John Paul II shakes hands with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, during the ceremony of the Christmas greetings at the Vatican on Dec. 22, 1995. At left is Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and third from left, waving, is former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli. As John Paul’s right-hand man on doctrinal matters, Ratzinger wrote documents reinforcing church teaching opposing homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia, and asserting that salvation can only be found in the Catholic Church. Benedict, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Massimo Sambucetti, File)
            
              FILE - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, left, looks at Pope John Paul II during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Sept. 11, 2002. As John Paul’s right-hand man on doctrinal matters, Ratzinger wrote documents reinforcing church teaching opposing homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia, and asserting that salvation can only be found in the Catholic Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, File)
            
              FILE - Pope John Paul II places his hands on the shoulders of West German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, archbishop of Munich and Freising, on Oct. 22, 1978, during the solemn inauguration of his ministry as universal Pastor of the Church in Vatican City. As John Paul’s right-hand man on doctrinal matters, Ratzinger wrote documents reinforcing church teaching opposing homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia, and asserting that salvation can only be found in the Catholic Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo, File)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had a long and illustrious career as one of the Roman Catholic Church’s pre-eminent theologians. For all his accomplishments and accolades, however, Benedict will forever be known as the first pope in 600 years to resign.

The former German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog before becoming pope. Then, after being elected pontiff in 2005, he continued the conservative course charted by St. John Paul II, using intellectually rigorous sermons that decried how the world seemed to think it could do without God.

Benedict died on Saturday at the age of 95.

Here are some highlights of his life before, during and after his eight-year papacy.

DOCTRINAIRE IN CHIEF:

During nearly a quarter-century as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger became known for disciplining errant theologians, particularly those who espoused the Liberation Theology popular in Latin America in the 1970s and ’80s.

As John Paul’s right-hand man on doctrinal matters, Ratzinger wrote documents reinforcing church teaching opposing homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia, and asserting that salvation can only be found in the Catholic Church.

But Ratzinger was also responsible for one of the most important in-house reforms at the Vatican: requiring all cases of clergy sex abuse be sent to his office for processing. The 2001 change was a response to mounting evidence that bishops were moving priestly abusers around rather than sanctioning them.

THE 265th POPE

Ratzinger was the favorite going into the 2005 conclave after John Paul’s death, and he was elected on the fourth round of voting after the runner-up, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — the future Pope Francis — took himself out of the running.

Benedict had big shoes to fill, and he set about trying to remind Europe of its Christian roots while also seeking improved ties with China and the Orthodox Church.

But his eight-year papacy was marred by a series of communications blunders, missteps and scandals that culminated with a Vatican criminal trial of his former butler who was accused of leaking his personal correspondence to a journalist.

RELATIONS WITH JEWS AND MUSLIMS

Benedict made an outreach to Jews a hallmark of his papacy, and in one of his most significant acts, he made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Christ.

But he also enraged Jewish groups when he rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying bishop — a scandal that he admitted could have been avoided if someone at the Vatican had done a simple internet search of the bishop’s name.

Benedict’s relations with Muslims were more fraught. He roiled the Islamic world with a 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman,” particularly his command to spread the faith “by the sword.”

A subsequent comment after the massacre of Christians in Egypt led the Al Azhar center in Cairo, the seat of Sunni Muslim learning, to suspend ties with the Vatican, which were only restored under Francis.

THE RESIGNATION

Benedict chose Feb. 11, 2013 — a Vatican holiday, with a routine audience with his cardinals — to make the historic announcement in Latin that he would become the first pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign.

While the decision took the world by surprise, Benedict had been nursing it for months. He had taken a nighttime fall during a 2012 trip to Mexico that confirmed to him that he could no longer keep up with the grueling, globe-trotting demands of the 21st century papacy.

Benedict told the cardinals that because of his age, he no longer had the required “strength of mind and body” to do the job and was freely deciding to renounce his papal ministry.

He left the Vatican on Feb. 28, 2013, flying by helicopter to the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where he spent the first months of his retirement.

IN RETIREMENT

Benedict largely kept to his word that he would live a lifetime of prayer and meditation “hidden to the world” in the converted monastery in the Vatican gardens.

But he remained a point of reference for traditionalists nostalgic for his orthodox papacy. And his few public pronouncements as “pope emeritus” made headlines and fueled calls for guidelines for future retired popes to prevent confusion about who was really in charge.

The most damaging incident was his participation in a 2020 book about preserving celibacy for Catholic priests. It was published at the precise moment that Francis was weighing whether to relax celibacy in the Amazon to address a priest shortage.

The ensuing scandal resulted in Francis essentially firing Benedict’s longtime secretary.

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Benedict’s lasting mark on papacy will be his resignation