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Pope Marks Fifth Anniversary as Head of Catholic Church

Sabina Castelfranco

Pope Benedict XVI marked five years as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics under the shadow of a clerical sex-abuse scandal that has plunged the Catholic Church into its most serious crisis of recent times.  

Five years ago Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected leader of the Catholic Church and took the name Benedict XVI.  To mark the occasion, he hosted a lunch for 60 cardinals at the Vatican, who cheered and applauded him.

But this anniversary comes as the Catholic Church and the pope himself are dealing with its worst crisis in modern times: another scandal over pedophile priests.  Pope Benedict returned last night from a weekend visit to Malta where he met some victims of the sex abuse by priests.

At the lunch at the Vatican, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said the pope leads the church "with great generosity" in the face of "the challenges that the modern world poses to each disciple of Christ".

As part of the anniversary celebrations, the Italian bishops' conference has invited faithful in churches across Italy to pray for Pope Benedict and thank God for his enlightened teachings.

Vatican observer John Allen says Benedict understands himself to be a teaching pope, who has produced three writings on Catholic doctrine.  

But Allen says his papacy has been most defined by its disasters.  Benedict has displeased Moslems, Jews, Anglicans and others during the past five years.

"We can wind the clock back to 2005 when the Vatican put out the document that homosexuals should not become priests; 2006 the pope's speech in Regensburg, which inflamed Muslem sentiment around the world because it appeared to link the prophet Mohammed with violence; 2007 when the pope authorized wider celebration of the Latin mass which includes a controversial Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews; 2009 when he lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops including one who was a Holocaust denier," said John Allen. "Also in 2009 his comments en route to Africa about condoms making the problem of AIDS worse."

Other Vatican watchers say Pope Benedict is not perceived as being a strong person in the field of governance.  He often appears to be making decisions on his own, and they say the fact he appears to be working in isolation could be an increasing problem for a global church.   

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