Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Outreach and a few missteps

Pope Benedict XVI set clear and ambitious goals for his papacy quickly after he was elected: He hoped to re-evangelize the increasingly secular West. He would show that religious faith and reason could co-exist in the modern world. Because of burdens he inherited and ongoing problems in his own pontificate, Benedict fell short of the mark he set for himself on unifying the church, building relationships with other religions and restoring the church's influence in broader society.

RESTORING TRADITION

Benedict wanted to restore Catholic traditions largely abandoned during the modernizing changes of the Second Vatican Council. The pope relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass. Many younger Catholics responded to his emphasis on orthodoxy and a stronger sense of Catholic identity. But many others were alienated. In the United States alone, studies have found Catholics dropping out of the church in large numbers.

PAPAL GAFFES

Benedict was a star on Twitter and his books were popular far beyond the Catholic Church. But his pontificate was marred by blunders. Benedict riled the Muslim world with a speech in Germany, in September 2006 in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman." In 2009, the pope enraged the United Nations when, en route to Africa, he told reporters that using condoms "increases the problem" of AIDS. Last year, a Vatican-ordered reform of American nuns prompted widespread condemnation of church leaders and a dramatic outpouring of support for religious sisters.

SEX ABUSE SCANDAL: Benedict became the first pope to meet with victims of clergy sex abuse. In 2010, he issued an unprecedented apology to Ireland for chronic abuse, appealing to any remaining guilty clergy to "submit yourselves to the demands of justice." In another dramatic move, he ordered a full-scale reform of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order that Pope John Paul II had championed whose founder for years sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children. However, Benedict didn't discipline church leaders who kept guilty priests in ministry or hid claims from parents and police.

CATHOLIC-JEWISH RELATIONS: Benedict's first official act as pope was a letter to Rome's Jewish community. In his 2011 book, Jesus of Nazareth, he made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Christ, explaining biblically and theologically why there was no basis in Scripture for the argument that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus' death. However, he also angered Jews on a number of fronts. Jewish leaders harshly criticized Benedict when he removed the excommunication of a traditionalist British bishop who had denied the Holocaust. Jews were also incensed at Benedict's constant promotion toward sainthood of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope accused by some of having failed to sufficiently denounce the Holocaust.

SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

Benedict became the first pope to meet with victims of clergy sex abuse. In 2010, he issued an unprecedented apology to Ireland for chronic abuse, appealing to any remaining guilty clergy to "submit yourselves to the demands of justice." In another dramatic move, he ordered a full-scale reform of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order that Pope John Paul II had championed whose founder for years sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children. However, Benedict didn't discipline church leaders who kept guilty priests in ministry or hid claims from parents and police.

CATHOLIC-JEWISH RELATIONS

Benedict's first official act as pope was a letter to Rome's Jewish community. In his 2011 book, Jesus of Nazareth, he made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Christ. However, he also angered Jews on a number of fronts. Jewish leaders harshly criticized Benedict when he removed the excommunication of a traditionalist British bishop who had denied the Holocaust. Jews were also incensed at Benedict's constant promotion toward sainthood of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope accused by some of having failed to sufficiently denounce the Holocaust.

CHRISTIAN HERITAGE

Benedict dedicated his pontificate to stemming the spread of secularism, especially in Europe, where church attendance has dwindled. He condemned same-sex marriage, argued that gender had become something chosen instead of given from God, and said lack of belief was dangerous, pointing to violence that resulted when past atheist governments "tried to stamp out the light of God to instead turn on illusory and misleading glows." Yet even as he made his arguments, acceptance of same-sex relationships grew throughout Europe and the United States.

CATHOLIC-JEWISH RELATIONS: Benedict's first official act as pope was a letter to Rome's Jewish community. In his 2011 book, Jesus of Nazareth, he made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Christ, explaining biblically and theologically why there was no basis in Scripture for the argument that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus' death. However, he also angered Jews on a number of fronts. Jewish leaders harshly criticized Benedict when he removed the excommunication of a traditionalist British bishop who had denied the Holocaust. Jews were also incensed at Benedict's constant promotion toward sainthood of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope accused by some of having failed to sufficiently denounce the Holocaust.

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