News / Europe

Pope Benedict XVI's Legacy Mixed

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square, at the Vatican October 24, 2012.
Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square, at the Vatican October 24, 2012.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope on April 19th, 2005 following the death of Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger took the name of Benedict XVI and his papacy lasted almost eight years.  He resigned last month, the first pope to do so in 600 years, and experts say he leaves a mixed legacy.

Brennan Pursell, one of Benedict’s biographers, said he will be remembered first and foremost as a teacher.

“His legacy as pope will survive in his writings, above all, and his catechesis [religious/faith instruction], his encyclicals [papal letters], his various documents,” he said. “And for people who just read what's online, they can get a sense of the awesome extent of this man’s contribution to church teaching.”

Father Thomas Reece at Georgetown University, said Benedict “had very strong ideas about church doctrine, orthodoxy, church traditions.  He was not afraid to go after priests and religious and theologians who disagreed with him - basically try to silence them.”

Was Benedict a Conservative Pope?

Some experts have labeled Pope Benedict a “conservative” on such issues as contraception, gay marriages, stem cell research and married priests.

But Father Robert Barron, Rector of Mundelian Seminary in Chicago, said you cannot use political labels to describe the papacy.

“It’s not as though popes are shifting perspective on these things and we now get a liberal pope who says this and a conservative pope who says that,” said Father Barron.  “He was teaching what John Paul the Second taught, what Pope Paul VI taught, what John XXIII taught, what Pius XII taught.  There really wasn’t anything that was ‘right-wing’ about Benedict. He was in line with the great moral and doctrinal teaching of the church.”

Benedict Addresses Sex Abuse Scandal

Benedict’s papacy was rocked by the child sex-abuse scandal that surfaced during the last few years of John Paul II's papacy.

Father Barron said that was the time when Joseph Ratzinger was the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

“I have heard from people here in Chicago, where I am based, people who were involved in the lay board that was investigating all this business, that Ratzinger was the one in Rome they trusted the most - who listened to them, who got [understood] the problem,” said Father Barron.  "Beginning in 2001, he would have gotten all these dossiers, he would have read all these stories.  Anyone that knew him, they have all said the same thing, that he was disgusted by what he read.  And it sort of woke him up to the gravity of the situation.  And then he did address it pretty aggressively during the years that he was head of the CDF - and then since becoming pope.”

Analysts said he instituted quicker procedures to expel from the priesthood those involved in the sex-abuse scandal.  Benedict also apologized for the abuse and met with some of the victims.

Other Miscues Mark Benedict’s Papacy

But Benedict’s papacy was also marked by several other events.  During a speech in Regensburg in September 2006, he quoted a Byzantine emperor, stating what for some Muslims was seen as an attack on Islam.  That brought protests from the Muslim world.  Later on he went to Turkey, a trip that included prayers with Istanbul’s grand mufti at the city’s Blue Mosque.

In 2009, Benedict provoked outrage when he lifted the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist bishops, including one who denied the holocaust.

And just last October, Benedict’s butler was convicted of stealing boxes of sensitive and confidential documents from the papal chambers, providing them to newspapers. Benedict ultimately pardoned his valet.

All those examples, said many experts, were public-relations disasters.

Last month, Benedict XVI resigned, saying he did not have the strength to go on as pontiff.

Resignation Very Much Part of Benedict’s Legacy

George Ferzoco, professor of theology at Bristol University in England, said his decision is very much part of his legacy.

“The one that will have the greatest lasting effect, I believe, for the foreseeable future, certainly for the next few centuries, is that each and every time that a pope is beginning to show signs of old age, the whispers will begin immediately, "Will he do as Benedict did and avoid a slow physical decline that could affect not only his health, but the well-being of the church, and step down?”

For the next few months, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will live in Castel Gandolfo, the popes’ summer home outside Rome.  He will then move to a convent that is being refurbished in the Vatican, where he plans to devote his life to prayer and writing.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs