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Pope Benedict Places His Imprint on Catholic Church


Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world Monday, announcing plans to step down as leader of the Catholic Church - the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years.

From the start, Pope Benedict faced a difficult road, following the popular Pope John Paul the Second.

He was embraced by some, but shunned by others.

The pope was born Joseph Ratzinger in a small town in Germany in 1927, the son of a police officer.

As a young man, he studied at a seminary. In World War II, he said, he was forced to join the Hitler Youth, though he said he defected as the war neared an end.

He was ordained in 1951 and taught theology before working his way up the church hierarchy. The further up the ranks he climbed, the more conservative his views became.

Pope Benedict Bio

  • Became one of the oldest new popes when elected in 2005 at age of 78
  • Headed Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before becoming pope
  • Named Cardinal of Munich in 1977
  • Taught at several universities from 1959 to 1966
  • Joined the Hitler Youth in 1941 when it became compulsory for all German boys
  • Born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927 in Bavaria's Marktl am Inn, son of a police officer
When he became pope in 2005, his first message was one of humility.

"The cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers," he said.

At times, Pope Benedict's papacy was rocky. In 2006, he enraged Muslims during a speech at a German University when he quoted the words of a medieval emperor.

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,'' said the Pope Benedict.

Pope Frontrunners for Now
(Source: Reuters)

While there are no official candidates, here are the "papabili,'' potential popes, most frequently mentioned recently. The list is in alphabetical order.

  • Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil, 65) brought fresh air to the Vatican department for religious congregations when he took over in 2011. He supports the preference for the poor in Latin America's liberation theology, but not the excesses of its advocates.
  • Timothy Dolan, (USA, 62) became the voice of U.S. Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009. His humour and dynamism have impressed the Vatican, where both are often missing.
  • Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is effectively the Vatican's top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He once said becoming pope "would be a nightmare.''
  • Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy, 70) has been Vatican culture minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists.
  • Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a "transatlantic'' figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the third-highest Vatican post as its chief of staff in 2000-2007.
  • Odilo Pedro Scherer (Brazilia, 63) ranks as Latin America's strongest candidate. He's Archbishop of Sao Paolo, largest diocese in the largest Catholic country.
  • Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 67) is a former student of Pope Benedict with a pastoral touch the pontiff lacks. The Vienna archbishop has ranked as papal material since editing the Church catechism in the 1990s.
  • Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding.
  • Luis Tagle (Philippines, 55) has a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul. He is also close to Pope Benedict after working with him at the International Theological Commission.
  • Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the Church's social conscience and backs world financial reform.
Reaction was swift and angry. Later that year, the pope traveled to Turkey and prayed at the Blue Mosque. He met with Muslim and Arab leaders through the years.

For much of his reign, the Church was embroiled in what seemed to be an ever widening priest-sex-abuse scandal.

In 2010, the pope apologized and promised - never again.

"We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again,'' he said.

The pope was known for his conservative views on abortion, homosexuality, and birth control, but he created a stir about a year ago when he wrote that condoms could be justified in cases of prostitution - to reduce the risk of HIV - though some said that came too late.

But the pope also moved the Catholic Church into the digital age, sending his first Tweet in December. He also got the Vatican its first electric car, having expressed concerns about the environment.

At the start of his papacy, Pope Benedict was seen as a choice for continuity. It now will be up to history to determine whether he fulfilled that role or whether his impact on the Church will be greater.

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