What is Pope Benedict XVI's legacy?

Thousands of people have been queuing up outside St Peter's Basilica in Rome since Monday morning to pay their last respects to Benedict XVI. The Pope Emeritus passed away on Saturday aged 95. Commentators shed light on his work as a theologian and the conflicts that shaped his pontificate.

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Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Ultra-conservatives without a representative

The ultra-conservative wing of the Church could now become dangerous for Pope Francis, Corriere della Sera fears:

“Ratzinger held back the most radical centrifugal forces for almost ten years through his writings and through confidential information he entrusted to his biographer Peter Seewald. It is not only the extreme wing, the sedevacantists and conspiracy theorists who have never forgiven him for resigning. ... Discontent has grown over the years, and the United States is at the centre of this internal opposition. For some time now, there has been talk of a 'schism' on the US Catholic right, which is hostile to Bergoglio and rich in funds and networks.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Fear of scholarship

The theologian Vito Mancuso explains in La Stampa:

“Ratzinger's distrust of biblical scholarship is evident in his three-volume work on Jesus, in which he almost completely disregards the scholarly exegesis of the Gospels, avoids awkward questions and ends up presenting an image of Jesus that borders on devotionism. This seems at first glance to be a problem that concerns only him and the scholarly stature of his work, but it has concerned everyone since the moment he began exercising his disciplinary power against biblical scholars and theologians as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (a post he held for 23 years). ... I refer to the many dozens of theologians stripped of their professorships. ... Ratzinger's problem, in my view, was fear. ... And fear gives rise to aggression.”

Tygodnik Powszechny (PL) /

An unsuccessful quest for calm

Ratzinger failed in his most important mission, Tygodnik Powszechny comments:

“As Vatican expert Marco Politi has written, the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope in April 2005 was an expression of the conviction that the Church needed 'a moment of calm after a gigantic pontificate'. And the new Bishop of Rome sought calm. Unsuccessfully. He wanted to slow down a Church that had been thrown into turmoil by the Second Vatican Council and was surrounded by controversy, groping in the dark, searching for new paths for itself and the world.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

He failed in the fight against abuse

The late Pope failed to live up to expectations on the burning issue of sexual abuse in the Church, The Daily Telegraph comments:

“There's no denying that Benedict, hampered by poor health, his gentle personality and Vatican politics, was increasingly overwhelmed by the task of being Pope in an era of intense media scrutiny. And however much he wished to share Jesus' message, what millions wanted was decisive action on child abuse - a task that by his own later admission, he failed.”

Denik N (CZ) /

An open approach to the crisis

Deník N also acknowledges that Benedict's pontificate was overshadowed by the revelations about sexual abuse in the Church, but commends the way he reacted:

“A year ago, Benedict's name came up in a report dealing with those who had made mistakes in the handling cases of abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich. As for the response to the abuse itself, it should be noted that Benedict tried to establish new rules for dealing with offenders among the clergy. He adopted a 'zero tolerance' policy and imposed ecclesiastical punishment on several high-ranking priests who had previously been considered untouchable. He was the first pope to meet with the victims, and the first to speak openly about the crisis.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

He turned the Church into a fortress

Benedict failed as a bridge builder, Frankfurter Rundschau writes:

“Neither during his almost eight years in office nor afterwards as 'Pope emeritus' did the German pontiff succeed in engaging in a fruitful exchange with contemporary society and connecting his Church with the world of today. ... As pope, Benedict XVI wanted to raise the drawbridge and deepen the moat - to use a fitting metaphor - to protect the Catholic Church as a strong fortress from all the pernicious influences of modernity.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

A great pope with a gentle smile

Le Figaro praises the legacy of the much-maligned pontiff:

“Rarely has a contemporary pope been so denigrated. ... But this man, who was strongly attached to the traditional Mass and was said to be conservative, made a gesture of unprecedented audacity. His renunciation of the Holy See changed the status of the papal office in a very short time. Benedict XVI had neither the charisma of John Paul II nor the temperament of Francis, but posterity will remember this great pope with a gentle smile, haunted by the advent of a world with neither culture nor hope, to which he wanted to convey a little of his faith in Jesus Christ.”