Pope Benedict XVI's shock resignation breaks '600-year taboo'
Pope Benedict, whose eight-year rule was characterised by theological conservatism and what critics said was complicity in the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, blames health problems
Lizzy Davies and John Hooper
The Guardian, Monday 11 February 2013 21.10 GMT
Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic church on Monday as he announced his intention to carry out the first papal resignation in almost 600 years, prompting shock from even his closest confidants and acerbic judgment from critics of his eight year-long reign.
In an address read out in Latin before a group of cardinals in the Apostolic Palace, the 85-year-old pontiff said he had decided that, due to his "advanced age" and deteriorating strengths, he would be stepping down as head of the Catholic church on 28 February.
"The pope has just broken a taboo by breaking with several centuries of practice," Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, told journalists, hailing the move as a "liberating act for the future".
The dramatic move – almost entirely unexpected – paves the way for a successor to be chosen by Easter. Whoever is named the next pope by a conclave next month will inherit a church struggling with many of the same controversies that blighted Benedict's papacy, from clerical sex abuse to fears over inadequate money laundering controls.
Benedict said he had taken the decision to resign "with full freedom" and great awareness of the "seriousness of this act". In order to fulfil the role of pope, he said, "both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me".
A Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, insisted the pope had "no current illness that would influence his decision". The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said he had made up his mind nearly a year ago after trips to Mexico and Cuba in March left him tired. His 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, told reporters: "Age is weighing on him. My brother would like more rest at this age."
The German, who in 2005 was the oldest man to be elected pope in almost 300 years, will now become the first pope to resign his position since Gregory XII in 1415 and the first to have done so voluntarily since Celestine V in 1294.
Fears that a papal resignation could cause a schism in the church are generally thought to have deterred previous popes from stepping down, but Lombardi insisted there would be "no risk" of this happening as canon law specifies that a former pope has no right to govern.
Around the world, leaders expressed surprise and sorrow at Benedict's departure. David Cameron said the outgoing pope had "worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain's relations with the Holy See", while Barack Obama said in a statement that he had "appreciated our work together over these last four years".
The leader of England and Wales' Roman Catholics was not given warning of the resignation. "Pope Benedict's announcement today has shocked and surprised everyone," said the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster.
Nichols, who described the pope's decision to stand down as one of "great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action", said Benedict recognised both the challenges facing the church and the "strength of body and mind" required to deal with them. "I salute his courage and his decision," he said "I ask people of faith to keep Pope Benedict in their prayers."
Glowing tributes, however, were not ubiquitous. Victims of the sex and child abuse scandals that erupted under Benedict's papacy either accused him of being directly complicit in a conspiracy to cover up the thousands of cases that have come to light over the past three years, or of failing to stand up to reactionary elements in the church who were resolved to keep the scandals under wraps.
Norbert Denef, from north Germany, who was abused as a boy by his local priest for six years and was later offered €25,000 (then £17,000) by his diocesan bishop to keep quiet, said: "We won't miss this pope."
In and around the Vatican, the view was unsurprisingly more positive.
Luke Doyle, a seminarian from Kansas studying at the American College in Rome, said he was saddened by the news. But, he added: "This decision by the holy father fills me with admiration for him, and a deeper respect."
Once he stands down, Benedict will be taken to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat near Rome, and will subsequently live in a cloistered monastery. In his statement he said he wanted to "devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer".
His departure will set in chain the process designed to choose his successor from those candidates who are deemed papabile, or suitable for the papacy. Unlike some previous occasions, there are no obvious frontrunners, but Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, are thought to be among the most plausible candidates.
Benedict will not himself vote in the conclave, in which all cardinals under the age of 80 will take part.
But his conservative theological influence is expected to make itself felt through the decisions of those cardinals – a large number of whom were picked by the outgoing pontiff.
02/11/2013 07:57 PMChurch in Crisis: Pope Benedict Polarized More Than Unified
A Commentary by Peter Wensierski
Germany celebrated when Joseph Ratzinger was chosen pope in 2005. Eight years later, however, many are glad to see him go. He was a deeply polarizing figure in his native country and blocked the Catholic Church from launching a badly needed renewal.
Ever since his appointment in April 2005, Benedict XVI has been a divisive figure. The euphoria over the election of a Bavarian pope that first swept Germany has long since receded. With all due respect to the first pope to voluntarily step down in hundreds of years: In the eight years he held office, the pope did more to polarize than to unify Catholics in his country of birth.
Benedict XVI never managed to grow beyond his former self, the conservative professor of theology Joseph Ratzinger. The pope did not build bridges as a Pontifex Maximus should. Here in Germany, his election led to an increasing split within the Church. On the one side were the disappointed advocates of long-overdue reform. On the other were the fundamentalists, the upholders of tradition and self-appointed guardians of the faith who wanted to turn the clock back to before the Second Vatican Council and sought salvation in an authoritarian and hierarchical Church of the past.
Some in Germany are already speaking of a schism within the Conference of Bishops. During his years in office, Pope Benedict boosted the reactionary wing of the Catholic community, with its frequently obscure splinter groups, more than his predecessor did -- be it with his approaches to the ultra-conservative Pius Brothers, his scolding of renegade theologians or his fondness for the Traditional Mass. His efforts to address the abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church all over the world were too little, too late. Neither in the United States, Ireland nor Germany did he and his bishops manage to regain the trust subsequently lost.
Under a German pope, no less, the Church's reputation arrived at an all-time low in Germany in early 2013. According to a study conducted by the Sinus Institute, even the most loyal Catholics don't trust their own bishops. Once hailed as a sophisticate, the head of the Church morphed into a leader who lurched on the international stage from one unfortunate mishap to another. Even close friends and former colleagues have said that a man like Joseph Ratzinger is not cut out to head a community of a billion people.
For those Catholics in Germany who couldn't abide criticism of Benedict XVI's course, the pope was a powerful ally. Those who secretly tested the adherence of Catholic hospitals to official liturgy, those who clandestinely recorded the sermons of priests in Germany to trip them up, those who sought to cast aspersions on a theology professor in Rome -- these self-proclaimed guardians of belief always sent their denunciations directly to Benedict and his secretary, Georg Gänswein. They knew that consequences for those they accused of wrongdoing would be prompt.
Reshuffling the Cards
Benedict's resignation, however, now reshuffles the cards. Power structures could shift as a result, however slightly, when a new pope, possibly even one from another continent, blesses the world from St. Peter's Basilica this Easter. It is a prospect that fills many leading Catholics in Germany with hope, others with fear.
The pope, though, has taken some steps to ensure that his political legacy will continue in Rome -- particularly through his appointment of former Regensburg Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller. As the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Müller is a rough and ready guarantee of strict orthodoxy on central Vatican positions. And just a short time ago, Benedict elevated his private secretary, Georg Gänswein, to the status of bishop. The fetching Gänswein, who has even graced the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair, is now being floated as a possibility for leading a bishopric in Germany -- possibly as the successor to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the powerful conservative leader of the Cologne diocese.
Yet with all due respect to the surprising decision made by an ailing and weak 85-year-old man, many in Germany have long yearned for an end to the Ratzinger era, no matter who might succeed him. It remains to be seen whether German bishops will have more confidence than before to follow a more independent path. But there will certainly be more room for risk taking.
Indeed, Benedict's resignation offers the Catholic Church in Germany a new chance to free itself from torpor created by this paternalistic pope and to perhaps finally find a way to begin resolving the deep crisis facing German Catholics.
02/11/2013 05:35 PMDiminishing Strength: Weakness and Vatican Intrigues Plagued Pope
By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp in Rome
Benedict XVI has claimed failing health for his decision to step down from the papacy. But ongoing power struggles and intrigue in the Vatican likely also played a role. The search for a successor could prove challenging.
When the news came out at noon on Monday that Pope Benedict XVI would step down at precisely 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, it came as a surprise to more than just the Catholic faithful and priests around the world. "It was a bolt out of the blue," said Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals.
World leaders were also initially speechless over the development. "That would be striking news," Steffen Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said in response to a reporter's question earlier in the day, before asking for time to look into the question on his own. Later, on behalf of the government, he would express "respect for the decision" and for Benedict's "life's work." Even the pope's own broadcaster, Radio Vatican, was so taken by surprise that it mixed up the date and said the pope had stepped down on Friday. "We're no longer pope," a German public radio host said -- a play on the mass-circulation daily Bild, which proudly declared on its cover, "We're the pope," when news emerged in 2005 that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would be the new leader of the Catholic Church. Though somewhat flippant, the remark reflects the feelings of many in Germany.
Resignation in Latin
Eighty-five year old Pope Benedict XVI found his own unique way of announcing his decision to step down. During the canonization of 800 martyrs and the founders of two congregations, he announced to his "dear brothers" in Latin, "the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."
In today's world, he added, "subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith … strength of mind and body are necessary." But it was strength "which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me." Benedict had already mentioned the possibility in the past that he might one day step down for health reasons.
The Pope 'Suffered Greatly'
But it seems likely that the move also came out of the realization that he no longer had complete control of the church. During the so-called "Vatileaks" affair last year, secret documents and letters were smuggled out of the Vatican over a period of months. They bore witness to intrigue and a shocking power struggle among top Catholic cardinals. Pope Benedict XVI has been unable to put a stop to it. Nor was he able to reform the Vatican Bank following a series of obscure deals apparently aimed at money laundering.
The pope has "suffered greatly under certain elements that come with the office," Max Seckler, a long-time friend of Ratzinger's, told the German news agency DPA. "It is difficult to imagine the degree of intrigue that is present in Rome." Seckler, 85, said that he has wondered for years how much longer his friend could stand the strain.
But Benedict, who holds a Ph.D. in theology, has also had difficulties addressing other issues facing the church. He has proven unable to adequately deal with the seemingly unending series of sex abuse scandals that has shaken Catholic institutions around Europe and the world in recent years. Furthermore, his hard-line stance on faith has done little to slow down the widening cleft between today's believers and the Vatican. Huge numbers have left the church in recent years, particularly in well-off dioceses in Europe and the United States as Rome has become increasingly inflexible in its orthodoxy under Ratzinger's leadership.
A Succesor By Easter
As such, powerful detractors of Pope Benedict XVI have long since begun preparing for the next papal election. It is, for the moment, difficult to see who might be the top candidates; there is no obvious successor. There are reactionary, conservative and liberal wings in the Catholic Church, along with the geographical alliances that define Vatican leadership. There are the Spanish-Latin American cardinals, for example as well as those from the US, who have become increasingly powerful in recent years. And, of course, there are the Italians, who could have the advantage after two straight popes from outside the Catholic Church's home after centuries of Italian pontiffs. Within these circles, furthermore, there are widely differing stances on where the church should stand on the several questions it currently faces.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi hopes that a new pope can be chosen by Easter, at the very end of March. Prior to that, cardinals from around the world must make their way to Rome for the "conclave," which denotes the period during which church leaders will not be allowed to leave the Vatican until they have chosen a successor for Benedict XVI.
Lombardi seemed to hint at just how difficult that search might be in his noon comments, mentioning the "great problems the church faces today." Lombardi added that the pope did not expect that a schism would result from his decision to step down -- hardly the kind of statement that will resole doubts about the crisis now facing a deeply fractious church leadership.
*********Pope Benedict XVI has resigned – what happens next?
Strict rules surround conclave of cardinals who will elect next leader of world's 1.2 billion Catholics
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 February 2013 13.08 GMT
When Pope Benedict resigns on 28 February he will leave the office vacant and the process to choose a new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will begin.
Without the customary mourning period that follows the death of a pontiff, a meeting of the cardinals to elect his successor, called a conclave, could begin by mid-March.
The word comes from the Latin cum clave ("with key") and refers to the fact that the Roman Catholic church's most senior prelates used to be locked in the Sistine Chapel and adjoining buildings. The idea was to make them as uncomfortable as possible to force a choice.
It first took hold in Viterbo, a town in central Italy that was the site of several papal elections in the middle ages at times when Rome itself was judged to be too turbulent.
In 1271 the cardinals had spent 33 months failing to make up their minds, largely for political reasons, when the people of Viterbo lost patience. They persuaded the local authorities to lock the cardinals in a fortress, cut their food rations and remove the roof of the fortress to expose them to the elements.
The cardinals soon chose Gregory X, who, three years later, introduced new rules for the election of popes, including one that said the cardinals had to meet in seclusion on a gradually reduced diet until they were living off bread and water. His successor was elected in a day; the next pope in seven.
Until the election of Benedict in 2005, a conclave was something to be approached with as much dread as reverence. The mainly elderly cardinals were lodged in a walled-off space within the Apostolic Palace, divided into small, bare rooms.
Since the introduction of rules approved in 1996 by his predecessor, John Paul II, the cardinal-electors have been given comfortable accommodation in a new guesthouse within the Vatican, a sizeable complex of 108 suites and 23 single rooms, all with private bathrooms. The prelates will travel by bus to and from the Sistine Chapel, where the voting takes place beneath Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgment.
The conclave that chose Benedict began on 18 April 2005 and ended the following day after four ballots. But not all cardinals take part in a conclave. Anyone who has been nominated in pectore – anonymously, so as to protect them from reprisals or for some other reason – is excluded. So are the many cardinals who are over 80.
By the time the conclave begins, there is likely to be at least some consensus over the leading contenders. But Catholics believe that, once behind the shut doors of the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals are guided to their decision by God directly in the guise of the Holy Spirit. Anything becomes possible.
Certainly, there have been some remarkable shocks in the 2,000 years of the papacy, few more unexpected than the election of Karol Wojtyla as John Paul II in 1978. Joseph Ratzinger, however, went into conclave a favourite from which he emerged as Benedict XVI.
The cardinal-electors are forbidden to exchange messages of any kind with the outside world for the duration of the conclave. A dominant concern of John Paul's 1996 edict, Universi Dominici Gregis (The Shepherd of the Lord's Whole Flock) was to ensure deliberations remained secret, even after they had reached a decision. Anyone in Vatican City who should happen to meet one of the cardinal-electors during the election is forbidden to engage in conversation of any sort with the cardinal.
Universi Dominici Gregis also stipulates "careful and stringent checks" must be made to ensure no audiovisual equipment has been secretly installed in or around the Sistine Chapel "for recording and transmission to the outside".
Ballot slips are customarily burnt in a stove whose chimney extended through a window of the Sistine Chapel. When there was no result, straw was mixed with the ballots to produce thick, black smoke as a signal to those waiting outside. Sometimes, the difference between black and white smoke has been difficult to discern.
In 1958, when John XXIII was elected, Vatican Radio's reporters got it wrong and told the world a pope had been chosen a day before the decision was reached.
**********Who will be the next pope? The contenders for Vatican's top job
Two cardinals from Africa, a Canadian and an Italian are among those being tipped to succeed Pope Benedict XVI
Sam Jones and Afua Hirsch
The Guardian, Monday 11 February 2013 17.21 GMT
With Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, speculation about who might succeed him when the conclave meets in March has begun. Any baptised Roman Catholic male is eligible for election as pope, but only cardinals have been selected since 1378. Among those who have been mentioned as potential successors are the following:
Cardinal Peter Turkson
A TV star, "people's person" and a "wonderful" priest, the Ghanaian cardinal emerging as a strong favourite for the papacy is described by colleagues in glowing terms. Peter Turkson, who is president of the Vatican's pontifical council for justice and peace, was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003 after serving for almost 30 years as an ordained priest.
Turkson was born on 11 October 1948 in Nsuta-Wassaw, a mining hub in Ghana's western region, to a Methodist mother and a Catholic father. He studied and taught in New York and Rome before being ordained to the priesthood in 1975. In 1992 he was appointed archbishop of Cape Coast, the former colonial capital of Ghana and a key diocese.
As archbishop, Turkson was known for his human touch, colleagues said. "We love him," said Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, the metropolitan archbishop of Accra, who was made archbishop in Ghana at the same time as Turkson and has known him since school. "For Ghanaians he was our first cardinal, and to be made cardinal in his 50s was a big feather in our cap. Since then he has shown himself to be a church leader and a young cardinal breaking new ground."
The Rev Stephen Domelevo, from the Ghana Catholic communication office, said: "Cardinal Turkson is a wonderful person, very down to earth and humble. He lived in a simple way, and he was someone people felt very comfortable with. He is excellent at communicating scripture in a way that people really understand. He speaks many local languages – as well as European languages – and uses jokes and humour to really portray messages to people. He has that human touch."
Turkson speaks his native Ghanaian language, Fante, as well as other Ghanaian languages and English, French, Italian, German and Hebrew, as well as understanding Latin and Greek. "Cardinal Turkson likes to be able to joke with people in their own languages," said Domelevo. "It would not surprise us in Ghana if he were to be the next pope. He has what it takes. It would really be a gift to the church."
Turkson's popularity in west Africa has been boosted by his regular television appearances, particularly a weekly broadcast every Saturday morning on the state channel Ghana TV. He has maintained strong ties with his native country while carrying out his duties in the Vatican. "Cardinal Turkson has kept up his links with Ghana," said Palmer-Buckle. "He comes home as and when his duties allow. He has served as chairman of the national peace council, he has been on the board of our university – he is a very Ghanaian cardinal."
However, Turkson has not been immune to controversy. He sparked outcry last year when he screened a YouTube film at an international meeting of bishops featuring alarmist predictions at the rise of Islam in Europe. The clip, titled Muslim Demographics, included claims such as: "In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic."
Benedict XVI also attracted the ire of Muslims after a 2006 lecture in Regensburg, his former university, in which he used a quotation to suggest that contributions made by the prophet Muhammad were "only evil and inhuman". Ghana, whose population is roughly 63% Christian – including around 11% Catholic – and 16% Muslim, is known for its relative tolerance and peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians.
Colleagues in Ghana voiced approval for Turkson's stance on social matters, but said he would be unlikely to take the church in a radical direction on contentious issues such as abortion and contraception. In the past Turkson has not ruled out the use of condoms but advocated abstinence and fidelity, and treatment for HIV-infected people above spending and promoting the use of contraception.
"In matters of scripture and morality, no leader of the church comes to change anything," said Palmer-Buckle. "But in pastoral matters, that is where the church has been much improved. When dealing with homosexual activity, it is morally wrong. The truth must be spoken but it must be spoken with compassion."
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
As prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which oversees the handing out of mitres, the multilingual Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet is one of the most powerful men in the Vatican. The 68-year-old former archbishop of Quebec, who was appointed to the third most important job in the Vatican three years ago, has the power to make or break careers. His position makes him a natural candidate for the papacy, although he was careful to downplay any talk of promotion when he was chosen to lead the congregation in July 2010. "I'm surprised to be today in this position," he said at the time. "And I don't think that I will become a pope someday, I don't think so."
Born in Quebec in 1944, Ouellet studied at Laval University, the Grand Séminaire de Montréal and the Université de Montréal before being ordained in May 1968. He has spent many years living and teaching in Colombia, which would make him an attractive figure to Latin American Catholics should one of their number again be passed over as pontiff. He was ordained as bishop by John Paul II and is seen as a close ally of Benedict XVI.
Despite his reputation as a traditionalist, in 2007, Ouellet issued an open apology for the church's pre-1960s attitudes, saying they had contributed to "anti-Semitism, racism, indifference to First Nations and discrimination against women and homosexuals" in Quebec. Three years later, however, he caused outrage after telling an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that aborting a pregnancy was a "moral crime", even in rape cases.
Cardinal Francis Arinze
Francis Arinze, who was born in Eziowelle, Nigeria, on 1 November 1932, has long been touted as a possible pope. Although his parents worshipped Ibo deities, Arinze – one of seven children – was sent to an Irish missionary school and soon set his heart on becoming a priest.
He was ordained in 1958 and went on to teach liturgy, logic and basic philosophy at Bigard Memorial Seminary at Enugu in south-eastern Nigeria and study at the Institute of Pedagogy in London. He was 32 when he was consecrated bishop on August 1965, and became archbishop two years later. Arinze witnessed the horrors of conflict first-hand during the civil war between Nigeria and Biafran secessionists, and was later asked by John Paul II to lead what is now the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which is responsible for managing the Vatican's relationships with other faiths.
His ability to get on with those outside the Vatican has been widely praised, with one colleague remarking of his charm: "The beautiful thing about the cardinal is that he can say the hardest thing with a smile on his face and not offend people." However, even the great communicator is sometimes unable to read his audience. During an appearance at Georgetown University in Washington almost a decade ago, he was booed for equating homosexuality with adultery and divorce, and claiming such sins mocked the family.
John Paul II made him cardinal in May 1985, cementing his rapid rise through the Roman Catholic ranks. He was hotly tipped to be the first African in 1,500 years to sit on the throne of St Peter in 2005, but was beaten to the post by Cardinal Ratzinger.
Cardinal Angelo Scola
The election of Angelo Scola as Benedict XVI's successor would delight Italians keen to see one of their own back on the papal throne after Polish and German popes. Scola, the son of a truck driver, was born on 7 November 1941 in Lombardy. Ordained in 1970, he holds doctorates in philosophy and theology and was professor of theological anthropology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He was appointed bishop of Grosseto in 1991, patriarch of Venice in 2002, archbishop of Milan in 2002, and proclaimed cardinal a year later.
In spite of his place at the top of the Vatican hierarchy and his academic pedigree, he has urged the church to do more to appeal to the modern world, arguing it needs to build on the second Vatican Council of the 1960s, which proved a landmark moment in Roman Catholic history. An ardent believer in the church's role at the centre of society, Scola has publicly bemoaned its inability to clearly communicate its message on matters such as marriage.
"One reason for the misunderstanding is that we Christians often propose this moralistically instead of giving reasons, instead of convincing," he said in 2005. "This is a weakness of ours."
************Next pope's in-tray: five key issues for the Catholic church
With Pope Benedict XVI announcing his intention to step down, we look at the pressing matters awaiting his successor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 February 2013 14.19 GMT
Pope Benedict XVI appeared to signal a break with traditional teaching on the use of condoms almost three years ago when he said the use of condoms was acceptable "in certain cases". If, for example, a male prostitute used a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection, he said, that could be considered "a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants". The example, however, was carefully chosen: by deploying it, the pope avoided the issue of birth control and made no mention of condom use in heterosexual relationships.
The Vatican later clarified the remarks, stressing that the pope has "not reformed or changed the church's teaching" on the matter.
His spokesman added: "The pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real risk to the lives of others. In this case, the pope does not morally justify the exercise of disordered sexuality, but believes that the use of condoms to reduce the risk of infection is a 'first step on the road to a more human sexuality', rather than not to use it and risking the lives of others."
In 2009, during his first trip to Africa as pope, Benedict provoked outrage after declaring that condoms were not the answer to the continent's fight against HIV and Aids – and could make the problem worse.
Speaking to journalists on his flight, the pontiff said the condition was "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems". His successor will have to decide whether this remains the position of the church.
Sexual abuse within the church
The horrific sexual abuse scandals that have erupted in the US and Europe and haunted so much of his papacy are far from resolved. Although he has spoken of the church's "shame" over what he termed the "unspeakable crimes" committed by paedophile priests and apologised to victims, many critics feel the Vatican was – and still is – far too slow, too reluctant and too secretive when it comes to acknowledging and investigating sexual abuse.
Homosexuality and same-sex marriage
Despite long ago condemning physical and verbal violence against gay people as deplorable and something deserving of "condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs", the pope made it clear that he had no intention of departing from the church's teachings on homosexuality and gay marriage. In his final Christmas message, he said modern attitudes to sexuality and moves to promote same-sex marriage constituted an attack "on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child".
Pope Benedict's decision to give a top job to a cardinal who believes terminations to be wrong even in rape cases spoke volumes about the Vatican's enduring opposition to abortion. In 2010, he appointed Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, a position often regarded as the third most important job in the Vatican as its holder is responsible for drawing up shortlists of future bishops. Earlier the same year, Ouellet told an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that terminating a pregnancy was a "moral crime" even in rape cases. Ouellet is now tipped as a possible successor as pope.
The pope addressed the issue of women's place in the church during an address in Rome in 2007, saying: "Jesus chose 12 men as fathers of the new Israel, 'to be with Him and to be sent out to proclaim the message', but … among the disciples many women were also chosen. They played an active role within the context of Jesus's mission." In April last year, he delivered a fierce rebuke to "disobedient" Roman Catholics who had challenged church teaching on topics including women's ordination and priestly celibacy. "Is disobedience a path of renewal for the church?" he asked rhetorically, during a sermon in St Peter's on the day Catholic priests around the world renew their vows. He went on to point out that the Vatican's views on women priests were "definitive" and that the existing ban on them formed part of the church's "divine constitution".
**********Three centuries of popes – interactive
Pope Benedict XVI, who has announced his resignation, is the 20th leader of the Catholic church since Clement XII took the papal office in 1730. In all, there have been 265 popes since Saint Peter, who is regarded as the first and the founder of Catholicism
click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2013/feb/11/three-centuries-popes-interactive