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Pope Benedict XVI's bumpy years in the papacy

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-02-11

After eight years at the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI has said he will resign on February 28 because he lacks the strength to continue performing his duties. FRANCE 24 looks back at the controversies that have clouded his papacy.

Europe is Christian

Benedict XVI made waves with his very first public appearance as pope - perhaps an indication of things to come - when on April 27, 2005 he questioned why the European Constitution didn't mention the “inalienable Christian roots of its culture and civilisation.”

Two years later, however, the Vatican softened its position, culminating in the Vatican endorsing Turkey’s accession to the European Union.

The Regensburg speech

On September 12, 2006, Benedict XVI delivered an address on the subject of faith at the University of Regensburg in Germany. By way of condemning violence in the name of religion, the pope quoted Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel Il Palaiologos, who denounced ‘Mohammed’s mandate to use the sword to spread his faith.’ This speech was almost universally condemned by Muslims.

Quenn Rania of Jordan welcomes the pope

Several months later, the pope tried to backpedal on his remarks, saying he “regretted” the misunderstanding created by his speech.

Three years later, the pope went to Jordan – his first visit to a mostly Muslim country. He prayed at the Al-Hussein mosque, the largest in the nation. Benedict XVI is only the second pope to enter a mosque -- the first one having been John Paul II, his predecessor.

Latin Mass

In July 2007, Benedict XVI relented on his career-long insistence that all masses be held in Latin. He also consented to allow the Traditionalist Catholic movement to adhere to the Tridentine Mass – an older version of the mass that Benedict had previously dismissed as non canonical.

The Williamson controversy and run-ins with the Jewish community

On January 24, 2009, Benedict XVI overruled the excommunication of four bishops from the Society of St. Pius X (which opposes Vatican II reforms) - including Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. The decision created controversies in both the Catholic and Jewish communities. The Jewish community asked the pope to clarify his position. The Catholic community was divided on the matter. In an unusual move for a head of state, German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that the pope clarify his position.

The Vatican declared it was unaware of Williamson’ extreme views when it made the decision to overrule his excommunication. The pope requested that Williamson publicly retract his statements. However, the pope ultimately deemed the bishop’s contrition to be “insufficient.”

Beatification of Spanish Civil War martyrs

Taking up a cause championed by his papal predecessor, Benedict XVI beatified “498 martyrs of the Spanish Civil War” who died in the name of Catholicism. However, he undid some of that goodwill by hailing Franco loyalists – a very touchy issue in a nation still recovering from the legacy of fascism.

'Condoms aggravate the AIDS problem'

This statement reverberated around the world  in March 2009 on the pope’s first trip to Africa. His statement went farther even than John Paul II, who opposed the use of condoms as a solution to the AIDS epidemic. However, one year later Benedict XVI became the first pope to accept a limited use of condoms on medical grounds, suggesting it maa mark a step towards a "more humane sexuality".

The beatification of Pius XII

Pius XII
On December 17, 2009, Benedict XVI officially signed the order to begin the beatification process of Pope Pius XII, who served from 1939 to 1958 and who is a controversial figure for the many who feel he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. Benedict XVI has maintained that Pius XII actually saved Jews in Europe, particularly in Rome, by hiding them in religious institutions. This has long been a matter of contention between the Vatican and the Jewish community worldwide.

Paedophilia scandal

In the beginning of February 2010, an enormous paedophilia scandal rocked the Dublin diocese. The church was accused of having covered up sexual abuse against children, spanning the period of 1975 to 2004. It was just the beginning of a long string of similar scandals in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and the US. As a damage control measure, Benedict XVI apologised to the Catholics of Ireland. But no sooner had he done so that he was accused of covering up for a paedophile cardinal. So great was the outrage that many called for the pope’s resignation – casting a cloud over Easter.

‘Vatileaks’ scandal

In one of the most shocking security breaches to occur at the Vatican, Paolo Gabriele, Benedict XVI’s former butler, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in October 2012 after being found guilty of stealing confidential papal files. Angry at the “evil and corruption” he said he witnessed in the Catholic Church, Gabriele leaked the documents to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Pope Benedict XVI,” was published a few months earlier. Gabriele said he felt guilty for betraying the pontiff’s trust and in December received a pardon from the pontiff. According to RFI's Geneviève Delrue, the "Vatileaks" scandal marked the "final blow" for the 265th "vicar of Christ".

Profile: Pope Benedict XVI

 

Date created : 2013-02-11

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