Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, 1927 – 2022

Benedict XVIThe former pope has just died at the age of 95, since his election in April 2005, he has toiled in the shadow of John Paul II, his famous predecessor.

But the German-born theologian, heir to the throne three days after his 78th birthday, made a piece of history in his own right by making the remarkable decision to abdicate in February. in 2013, with the reason that the work had become too hard for him. old age. No pope since Celestine V in 1294 had resigned for personal reasons, although Gregory XII left office in 1415 under an agreement between rival factions to end a 40-year schism. in Rome. Catholic Church.

During his reign, Benedict made his distinctive mark on the papacy, displaying compassionate, pastoral qualities that contrasted with the severe dogmatism he was known for earlier in his reign. his career. However, this nerdy and somewhat timid individual has never fully grasped the problems of mismanagement and internal power struggles within the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy. “Government is not his strong point,” said Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, the night before. Benedict’s abdication.

some Pope’s most serious challenges, such as the face of a series of child abuse scandals at Catholic institutions in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world, made even more acute by the Church’s failure to address them effectively during the 26-year reign of John Paul. At that time, the future pope was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a gifted scholar who had served almost a quarter of a century as the intellectual architect of the papacy. John Paul.

Future Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with Pope John Paul II © Pier Pablo/AP

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s agency that exercises theological orthodoxy among bishops, priests and faithful worldwide, he oversaw a persecution of Catholics. dissent was fully supported by John Paul. The campaign called on Church conservatives to criticize the reforms introduced after the 1962-1965 Vatican Council. But it alienated progressives, who complained that the authoritarian regime at the top of the Vatican had increased divisions in the Church around the world.

Controversy haunted Benedict throughout his pontificate, in part because of his own actions and statements. When elected as the 265th Bishop of Rome, he described himself as “a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard” – giving the lie to those who had nicknamed him the “God’s Rottweiler”. The cardinals who chose him have praised him as witty, serene, skillful, and willing to consult, even if no one can remember that he gave in an inch in theological discussion.

An early example of his self-inflicted troubles arose in 2006, when he gave a presentation in the German city of Regensburg that outraged Muslims because he seemed to imply that Islam relies on violence and hatred to advance their goals. He quickly issued a qualified apology and emphasized his belief in interreligious dialogue. Like John Paul, however, he tends to focus less on improving relations with Islam and other religions than on winning the Church’s battle to reverse the decline of Christianity. organized, especially in Europe.

Another uproar broke out in 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI accepted four ultra-conservative bishops who rebelled back into the Church after a decades-long schism, only to discover that one – Richard British-born Williamson – denied the full scope of the Holocaust. Embarrassed Benedict explained that no Curia official had done an internet search to check Williamson’s opinion.

To some Vatican watchers, these missteps stem in part from Benedict XVI’s appointment of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as secretary of state in 2006, the Vatican’s number two job. When a series of secret Vatican documents were leaked to the media in early 2012 in the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal, Bertone was revealed to be the protagonist in a series of policy disputes and conflicts. Personality mutations focus on competitors’ efforts to increase transparency. financial operations of the Vatican and compliance with international standards for money laundering.

Pope Benedict XVI visits Havana, Cuba © Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Paolo Gabriele, the papal butler who stole documents in a self-proclaimed campaign against “evil and corruption” at the Holy See, has been put on trial by Vatican magistrates, found guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Benedict visited Gabriele in prison just before Christmas 2012 and pardoned him, in a gesture that recalls John Paul’s forgiveness of Mehmet Ali Ağca, the Turk who tried to assassinate him on in 1981.

“Vatileaks” highlights how far Benedict XVI fell short of his stated goal of ridding the Curia from its centuries of inefficiencies. Ostensibly wanting to modernize the Vatican’s system of government and image – he opened a Twitter account, @pontifexjust two months before abdicating — Benedict lacked genuine enthusiasm for bureaucratic reform.

One of his last acts as pope, however, was his attempt to restore order in the country Vatican Bank by Appointment of Ernst von Freyberg, a German lawyer and financier, as its new head. Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, a former bank director who is being investigated by Italian police in a money laundering investigation, was fired after the bank’s board denounced him in May 2012 for dereliction of duty.

After his abdication, Benedict lived quietly in the Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican gardens, but he failed to fulfill his letter’s promise to “hide from the world” during the reign of Pope Francis, the original successor. Your Argentina, has taken shape. . Benedict took up the title of Pope Emeritus and became a symbol of conservative Catholic resistance to some initiatives of Pope Francissuch as the decision to reintroduce restrictions on the celebration of the old Latin Mass that Benedict XVI himself lifted.

In 2019, Benedict published a essay in which he blamed sexual abuse scandals in the global Church in part on what he called the total collapse of sexual norms between 1960 and 1980. The following year, when His physical weaknesses were aggravated, Mr joke in an interview with Bavarian television: “I used to be so loud, now it doesn’t work anymore.”

Under Benedict, the most serious threat to the Vatican’s reputation arose from the scandal of pedophile priests and the Church’s alleged role in concealing their crimes in many other countries. together. The Irish government was so angry at what it saw as obstruction of justice by the Vatican that in 2011 it closed its embassy to the Holy See, only to reopen it in 2014.

Most cases of child abuse date back to the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but this has not stopped German critics from questioning why, as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 2005. In 1981, he took no firm action against a local priest known as a child abuser. . Benedict’s supporters insist he has gone further than John Paul in the face of the global dimensions of the scandal and admit that pedophile priests committed the crime, not a sin that needs nothing. other than applying the Church’s internal disciplinary procedures. But public outrage was intense in many Catholic countries, and the scandal has cast a shadow over the Church to this day.

Young Joseph Ratzinger celebrating Mass in 1952 © KNA/Getty Images

The son of a rural policeman, Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, a small settlement in the southern German state of Bavaria. His childhood experience of the Nazi atmosphere of intimidation led him to conclude that, for Catholics, a firm belief in an absolute moral system is the best response to with totalitarian terrorism.

Like all German teenagers, Benedict was asked to join the Hitler Youth, and he served in an anti-aircraft unit guarding a factory outside of Munich. When the fighting ended in 1945, US forces briefly held him as a prisoner of war. Few historians take his wartime record seriously: he had no pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic sympathies. In 2004, he affirmed the official position of the Church at the time that the “certain insufficient resistance” of Christians to the Nazi persecution of Jews was due to “anti-Semitism”. present in the hearts of many Christians”.

A student of philosophy and theology, Ratzinger taught at various German universities from 1959 onwards. John Paul summoned him to Rome in 1981, where he was deeply impressed with statements attacking homosexuality and “radical feminism” and with a treatise, “Dominus Iesus “, denying that other world religions can bring salvation independent of Catholicism.

The author of numerous works on theology, liturgy and culture, Benedict enjoys the company of his pet cats and relaxes by playing Mozart piano sonatas. He chose his papal name in part to honor Saint Benedict, the 5th-century founder of the Benedictine order that helped spread the Christian message throughout Europe.

He devoted much of his time as pope to his intellectual interests, writing a three-volume history titled “Jesus of Nazareth.” He wrote three encyclicals on spiritual and social topics, including one, “Deus Caritas Est,” which sternly condemned the modern-day reduction of sensual love to “a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to buy and sell”. Another encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” called for the creation of a “world political body” to govern the global economy and attacked “serious deviations and failures” in capitalism. not controlled.

Will Benedict, as pope, achieve his goal of creating a new generation? gospel spirit in the Church will be left to future historians to judge. What is clear is that the controversies that simmered under John Paul’s reign and became more intense under Benedict have continued to swarm the Church under Francis and show every sign that it will continue to rage in the future. future.

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