Lightning strikes twice

The outgoing Pope to leave behind a Church in crisis

AFP | FEBRUARY 16, 2013, 11:23 AM IST

Pope Benedict XVI will leave behind a Catholic Churchgrappling with crises from child abuse scandals involving priests toconfronting radical Islam as well as struggling to find its place in anincreasingly secular Western world.

German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who will step down at theend of this month after an eight-year pontificate, was elected pope on April19, 2005 at a time when anger at clerical abuse was at its height in parts ofEurope and North America, shaking the faith of many ordinary Catholics. In2008, he became the first pope to express "shame" over the abuse andto meet victims. But he was criticised for failing to realise the scale of the problemduring his previous 24-year career as head of the Congregation for the Doctrineof the Faith, the main doctrinal body of the Church.

Widely seen as an ultra-conservative, the first German popein history has proved in many ways more flexible and modern than his Polishpredecessor. He was the first pope to speak about the possibility of using acondom, although only in the very specific case of a sex worker with AIDS. In abook of interviews that came out in 2010 entitled "Light of theWorld" he said this could be a first step towards a "more humanesexuality". He has also avoided giving moral lessons and has spoken --often in a very personal way -- on matters of faith.

Benedict focused his papacy on restoring the CatholicChurch's identity, improving the coherence of its message and pushing for arespectful dialogue with other faiths and with atheists.

He has been keen to communicate through new media, becomingthe first ever pope with a Twitter account. He has said he believes the Churchwill be marginalised if it does not keep up with the times. At the same time,he has also said Christianity will only remain credible in the modern world ifit is demanding. A smaller and more confident Church is preferable to a vaguecommunity of faith, he has said. Concerning internal reforms, he has ruled outany change on the rule of priestly celibacy. He also opened the door toconservative Anglicans opposed to the ordination of women and gay people. Atthe same time, he increased dialogue with Orthodox believers and with Protestants.

Initially shunned by Muslims over some misunderstood andcontroversial comments linking the religion to violence, he multiplied hisappeals in recent years for a peaceful coexistence between the world's twogreat monotheistic religions. He has however been less of a diplomat than hispredecessor John Paul II, calling for greater openness in China and peace inthe Middle East with little tangible effect.

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