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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.

  • Pope Benedict greets the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, April 19, 2005.
  • Pope Benedict blesses a baby as he rides around St. Peter's Square to hold his last general audience at the Vatican Feb. 27, 2013.
  • Pope Benedict appears on a giant screen in a packed St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during his last general audience, February 27, 2013.
  • Pope Benedict arrives to attend a meeting with seminarians at the Romano Maggiore seminary in Rome, February 8, 2013.
  • Pope Benedict waves as he arrives to lead the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 18, 2012.
  • Pope Benedict wears a sombrero, a traditional Mexican hat, while being driven through the crowd before officiating a mass in Silao, Mexico, March 25, 2012.
  • Pope Benedict holds his cross as he leads a solemn mass in Zagreb, Croatia, June 5, 2011.
  • Pope Benedict visits the Ardeatine Caves Memorial in Rome, Italy, March 27, 2011.
  • Pope Benedict leaves after an audience with Vatican-accredited diplomats at the Vatican, January 10, 2011.
  • Pope Benedict visits the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 12, 2009.
  • Pope Benedict waves to the crowd gathered in Saint Peter's square during his weekly Angelus blessing at the Vatican, May 16, 2010.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama meet with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, July 10, 2009.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: NVO from: USA
February 13, 2013 7:23 PM
The idea of a "pope" is yet another catholic dogma......GONE WRONG! Jesus does indeed predict a “vicar” in the sense of a “replacement” for His physical presence here on earth. However, this “vicar of Christ” is NOT a priest, high priest, bishop, or pope. The only biblical “Vicar of Christ” is the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 declares, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:16-18 proclaims, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The Holy Spirit is Christ’s “replacement” on the earth. The Holy Spirit is our Counselor, Teacher (John 14:26), and guide into all truth (John 16:13).

In claiming that the pope is the “Vicar of Christ,” the Catholic Church rejects the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ’s priesthood, and grants to the pope roles that Christ Himself declared would belong to the Holy Spirit. It is therefore blasphemy to ascribe to the pope the title of “Vicar of Christ!"

by: NVO from: USA
February 12, 2013 6:14 PM
Wake up people!!! A prophesy related to the NEXT pope, from Malachi Martin, YES, THE NEXT POPE, after Ratzinger. The duped catholics are completely in DENIAL of this, and the catholic church DOES NOT want the world to know! Father Connor, you probably know him, said that the catholic church under
the heading of "sacred tradition" teaches that the final pope will defect
from the faith! Now here is what Bishop Sheen said. "The false prophet will
have a religion without a cross, a religion without a world to come, a
religion to destroy religions. There will be a counter church, Christs
church will be one, and the false prophet will create the other. The false
church will be worldly, ecumenical, and global. It will be a loose
federation of churches and religions forming some type of global
association. A world parliament of churches, it will be emptied of all
divine content and will be the mystical body of the anti-Christ. The
mystical body on earth today will have its Judas Iscariot, and he will be
the false prophet. Satan will recruit him from among OUR Bishops! The false
prophet will be a bishop, and like Judas, he will sell the mystical body to
the anti-Christ".-

Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1950)

by: syarief from: indonesia
February 11, 2013 8:38 PM
god bless ...!!!!!!!!!!

by: Melissa Holmes from: USA
February 11, 2013 7:49 PM
John Paul II was the revered spiritual leader of both Jews and Catholics alike. they have both loved him beyond measure. we miss his wisdom so much

by: Vira from: San Francisco
February 11, 2013 6:44 PM
Glad he's gone. I don't believe in organized religion, but since Catholocism isn't dying off anytime soon, it is my hope they find someone with young, fresh ideas, is inclusive to all it's members and teaches true love to all, not selective love to some who follow a set of rigid and dated rules.

by: junior from: everywhere
February 11, 2013 6:15 PM
Good riddance to you. Didn't do anything that was even close to being a true Pope. Nothing but a religious bureaucrat. I bet there is more to his "voluntary" resignation than what we are being told. Someone gad some good "dirt" on this guy and twisted his arm. His resignation stinks more cause of his longtime lack of humility and is do anything to become Pope attitude. If this is God's representative, I suggest God start vetting his people better.

by: Hoa Minh Truong from: Western Australia
February 11, 2013 6:01 PM
The Pope made critical mistake when he welcomed the massacre of Vietnam, Mr.Nguyen Tan Dung, prime minister, who killed thousand people during the period of 1980's and recently, he also warmly welcomed Vietcong Secretary General. Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, a head of communist party. Both hate God as Karl Marx's teaching. The angel couldn't hand shake the evil, but he did...
Hoa Minh Truong.
( author of 3 books: the dark journey, food evening Vietnam & from laborer to author)

by: John De Salvio
February 11, 2013 5:57 PM
Yes, Pope Benedict XVI left his imprint, alright. He stomped his heels on the heads of the 500 million gay people on the planet, whom he called "intrinsically disordered" years before being elected pope. He gave that directive to his predecessors. And he is very wrong - often tragically wrong for the children who killed themselves because of it.

by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
February 11, 2013 12:00 PM
For non-Catholics, Pope Benedict 16 was not an outreach Pope, in most ways he failed to continue the work of his glorious/charismatic/valiant Polish predessesor = to in earnest try to heal the past differences between the various Christian branches, and even Judaism; and reawaken the spirit of the Church in its youth.

Benedict 16, in my opinion, dramatically failed to bring to the world's attention the suffering/persecution of Christians in many countries around the world; he repeatedly spoke about peace, but never had the moral courage to really confront the evil of the terrible persecution of Christians; entire Christian communities no longer exist. Unfortunately, for Benedict, is the tremendous work and appeal of John Paul II, which totally eclipsed the papacy, of very much all past Popes, and probably future Popes.

On a human level, it is good to see him show great courage in making the descision to retire, because in this enlightened age, no person should be enslaved by a job/calling; I hope it sets a good example for other people, in high positions, that cling to power until their last breath. I wish him well for his remaining years.

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