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Latest update : 2010-04-20

Pope Benedict XVI, five years on

Today, Pope Benedict XVI is celebrating the fifth anniversary of his papacy. These have been a bumpy five years. The Vatican’s relations with Muslim and Jewish communities are tense. The pope is often seen as an ultra-conservative leader because of his positions on homosexuality or the use of condoms. And the latest evidence of decades of cover-up of sexual abuse by priests threatens to undermine his moral authority...

On April 19th- 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is elected to succeed the popular John Paul II.

The task ahead is difficult for this theologian, who prefers the solitude of his Vatican study to large crowds.

"First, we have a man who was not prepare to become Pope”, says Antoine-Marie Izoard, directeur of I.Media, a news agency specialized on the Vatican. “He accepted it with humility, that’s what he says.”

“He is a shy man, reserved, not one that is naturally attracted by crowds, but he has learnt slowly to ‘do the Pope’ as we said at the start of his pontificate. So, obviously he suffers from the comparison with his Polish predecessor, who was very charismatic. I see him as a Pope for the Interior rather than a Pope for the outside as was John Paul."

Pope Benedict decides to reunify the Church and return to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.

But over the last five years, this Pope from the interior is faced by never-ending crisis with the outside world.

The Vatican’s relations with Muslim and Jewish communities are tense.

His controversial statement in Africa against the use of condoms claiming they actually increase the risk of Aids, made him sound like an ultra-conservative leader.

And the latest evidence of decades of cover up of sexual abuse by priests, threatens to undermine his moral authority.

"Certainly historians will talk about that because we have never seen anything like this within the Church for a long time”, believes Patrick Valdrini, rector of the Church San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome’s historic centre.

“What strikes me a lot is his spirituality. I observed him during the Easter celebrations… He is someone who is suffering deeply in this crisis.”

“There are certainly unfair allegations made against him on the pedophilia problem. He has had an uncompromising attitude, maybe more so than others within the Church and his entourage."

Many clergymen feel powerless in the face of these scandals. Because according to them, Benedict is a modern Pope, who wants to reach out to the faithful. But the public sees little of that. Due to bad communication and, possibly, a backward group of advisors, the gap with the outside world is widening.

"Either the Catholic Church keeps a hard line, something it has a tendancy to do today, and I believe that the gap will keep on widening”, says Philippe Massicot, a tourist visiting the Vatican with his family. “Or it will decide to adapt more to the modern world, and in that case it will probably be able to bring back some of the faithful.”

Yet, there are still huge crowds visiting the Vatican every day. Many faithful travelling to Rome, like one group of Poles we met, are defiant and believe that the Pope is essentially the victim of a media campaign. That the Church can be hurt, but not destroyed.

By Alexis MASCIARELLI

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