Pope Benedict XVI set clear and ambitious goals for his papacy quickly after he was elected: He hoped to re-evangelize the increasingly secular West. He would show that religious faith and reason could co-exist in the modern world. He would reach out to traditionalists who had split from the church and shore up Catholic identity.
He came into the papacy with the reputation of a brilliant theologian; nearly eight years later, he leaves the Holy See with that reputation intact. But because of burdens he inherited and ongoing problems in his own pontificate, Benedict fell short of the mark he set for himself on unifying the church, building relationships with other religions and restoring the church's influence in broader society.
Some aspects of his legacy:
CHRISTIAN HERITAGE: Benedict dedicated his pontificate to stemming the spread of secularism, especially in Europe, where church attendance has dwindled. He condemned same-sex marriage, argued that gender had become something chosen instead of given from God, and said lack of belief was dangerous, pointing to violence that resulted when past atheist governments "tried to stamp out the light of God to instead turn on illusory and misleading glows."
RESTORING TRADITION: Benedict wanted to restore Catholic traditions largely abandoned during the modernizing changes of the Second Vatican Council. The pope relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass. He streamlined the process for traditional Anglicans who, objecting to ordaining women and gays in their own church, wanted to become Catholic. He even donned pontifical hats and other clothing that hadn't been worn in decades. Many younger Catholics responded to his emphasis on orthodoxy and a stronger sense of Catholic identity.
VATICAN SCANDALS: Some major scandals shook the Vatican during Benedict's pontificate. In 2010, the Holy See's top two banking officials came under scrutiny in a money laundering inquiry that resulted in millions of euros being seized from a Vatican bank account. The pope hired a Swiss expert a few months ago to help upgrade safeguards against wrongdoing, but problems remained. Meanwhile, the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was sentenced to prison after stealing the pope's personal correspondence and leaking them to a journalist.
PAPAL GAFFES: Benedict was a star on Twitter and his books were popular far beyond the Catholic Church. But his pontificate was marred by ongoing communication blunders. Benedict riled the Muslim world with a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in September 2006 in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith." In 2009, the pope enraged the United Nations and several European governments when, en route to Africa, he told reporters that using condoms "increases the problem" of AIDS.
CATHOLIC-JEWISH RELATIONS: Benedict's first official act as pope was a letter to Rome's Jewish community. In his 2011 book, "Jesus of Nazareth," he made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Christ, explaining biblically and theologically why there was no basis in Scripture for the argument that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus' death. However, he also angered Jews on a number of fronts. Jewish leaders harshly criticized Benedict when he removed the excommunication of a traditionalist British bishop who had denied the Holocaust. Jews were incensed at Benedict's constant promotion toward sainthood of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope accused by some of having failed to sufficiently denounce the Holocaust.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company