Pope to Step Down After 8 Years of Legal Tumult

Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 11 announced that due to health concerns, he will step down from his position at the end of the month. The pope, 85 years old, is reportedly not suffering any serious illness; he reportedly said his strength is depleted and plans to retire to a more quiet life.

Having presided over the Catholic world for only eight years, it’s understandable Pope Benedict is tired: The church has dealt with some serious controversy and legal problems during his short reign.


Priest Sex Abuse Cases

Allegations that Catholic priests sexually abused children entrusted to their care are still being leveled today, but the momentum of these cases gathered steam during Pope Benedict’s tenure.

For instance, the Catholic Church settled in 2007 a $660 million lawsuit alleging sex abuse by priests over decades. That was only one of many suits brought by people who said they suffered abuse at the hands of Catholic priests around the world. In September 2012, a bishop in Kansas City was convicted of failing to report priests who were pedophiles. 

Pope Benedict, whose given name is Joseph Ratzinger, tried to deal with the problem in 2010 by publicly acknowledging the church’s lack of vigilance, and by implementing reforms that would make it easier to detect abuse and rid the church of those priests.

His efforts were met with a mix of disbelief and acceptance.


Touch and Go with Muslims

Pope Benedict angered Muslims around the world in 2006 when, in a speech in Germany, he reportedly quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was based on “evil and inhuman” teachings.

The speech set off a wave of violent protests by Muslims in the Middle East. The pope said he regretted the misunderstanding – he was only quoting someone else – but stopped short of apologizing. In his speech, he had criticized the jihad as contrary to God’s nature. 

In African nations where Muslims are numerous, governments recalled ambassadors to the Vatican, where security was beefed up. By September 2012, the pope was speaking in Lebanon, urging inter-religious harmony.


‘Vatileaks’ Scandal

Also that fall, in October, Pope Benedict’s butler was convicted in Rome for leaking confidential letters to the Italian press that showed infighting and corruption among top brass in the Catholic world. 

Paolo Gabriele was sentenced to 18 months in prison for aggravated theft; he had faced eight years behind bars for betraying the Vatican’s trust. The pope pardoned Gabriele, who has said he was trying to expose corruption in the church, in December, just in time for Christmas.

Thousands of letters were found in his possession, many marked for destruction. They reportedly showed business attempts to bribe the pope, allegations of nepotism and corruption at the Vatican, and power plays by cardinals. The butler was targeted after an Italian journalist published a book about the correspondence. 

But many believed there was more to the story than a simple “the butler did it, in the kitchen, with a knife.” The Italian press reported that others possessed letters that revealed the dysfunction of the Vatican and that the butler was just the fall guy.

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