Pope Benedict legacy: Teacher who returned to church roots

Feb 28 2013, 09:44 IST
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SummaryOn Monday, April 4, 2005, a priest walked up to the Renaissance palazzo housing the Vatican's doctrine department and asked the doorman to call the official in charge: It was the first day of business after Pope John Paul II had died, and the cleric wanted to get back to work.

harsh criticism when things went wrong, as they did when he lifted the excommunication of a bishop who turned out to be a Holocaust-denier.

For a theologian who for decades had worked toward reconciliation between Catholics and Jews, the outrage was fierce and painful.

Benedict was also burdened by what he called the ``filth'' of the church: the sins and crimes of its priests.

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict saw first-hand the scope of sex abuse as early as the 1980s, when he tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Vatican legal department to let him remove abusive priests quickly.

But it was 2001 before he finally stepped in, ordering all abuse cases sent to his office for review.

``We used to discuss the cases on Fridays; he used to call it the Friday penance,'' recalled Scicluna, who was Ratzinger's sex crimes prosecutor from 2002-2012.

Still, to this day, Benedict hasn't sanctioned a single bishop for covering up abuse.

``Unfortunately, Pope Benedict's legacy in the abuse crisis is one of mistaken emphases, missed opportunities, and gestures at the margin, rather than changes at the center,'' said Terrence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org, an online resource of abuse documentation.

He praised Benedict for meeting with victims, and acknowledged the strides the Vatican made under his leadership. But, he said Benedict ignored the problem for too long, ``prioritizing concerns about dissent over the massive evidence of abuse that was pouring into his office.''

``He acted as no other pope has done when pressed or forced, but his papacy has been reactive on this central issue,'' McKiernan said in an email.

Benedict also gets poor grades from liberal Catholics, who felt abandoned by a pope who seemed to roll back the clock on the modernizing reforms of Vatican II and launched a crackdown on Vatican nuns, deemed to have strayed too far from his doctrinal orthodoxy.

Some priests are now living in open rebellion with church teaching, calling for a rethink on everything from homosexuality to women's ordination to priestly celibacy.

``As Roman Catholics worldwide prepare for the conclave, we are reminded that the current system remains an `old boys club' and does not allow for women's voices to participate in the decision of the next leader of our church,'' said Erin Saiz Hanna, head of the Women's Ordination Conference, a group that ordains women in defiance of church teaching.

The group plans to raise

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