Definitely, the German-born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger will be talked about by many theologians among the 1.3 billion Catholics, while looking at the legacy of the 95-year-old pontiff who died on December 31, 2022.
Pope Benedict XVI, or Benedetto XVI in Italian, was interred a day before Epiphany this year, with his successor, the 85-year-old Pope Francis presiding over the solemn farewell ceremony at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, seen by observers as unprecedented in modern times.
Benedict shocked the church when he unexpectedly announced at a ceremony with cardinals in February 2013 that he would step down as spiritual leader of the worldwide church.
Then 85, he said he had “repeatedly examined my conscience before God” and decided he was no longer up to the task of guiding the church in the modern world, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.”
Some 50,000 mourners dressed in black poured into St. Peter’s Square ahead of the televised Mass, which began at 9:30 a.m. local time (4:30 p.m. in Manila).
Benedict was the sovereign of the Vatican City state from April 19, 2005, becoming at age 78 the oldest newly elected pope since Clement XII (1730-40) until his resignation on February 28, 2013.
The Vatican announced the pope emeritus was buried in his tomb in the Vatican Grottoes under the main floor of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Benedict’s body was put into a space left after the Vatican moved the remains of his predecessor, John Paul II who beatified Lorenzo Ruiz in afternoon ceremonies at the sprawling bayside Luneta Park in February 1981, to the main floor to reflect John Paul’s sainthood.
Some theologians say Benedict “will best be remembered as the first Pope to resign in 600 years and that may well reshape the future of the Papacy by creating precedents and protocols for his successors.”
Fact is, in the days since his death, it has been striking to see the Vatican subtly reshaping his legacy.
Ordained a priest in 1951, he became archbishop of Munich in the late ‘70s, then led the Vatican’s chief doctrine and discipline office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, starting in the early 1980s, until he became pope in 2005.
In one interview, Father Roger Landry, of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, said “Catholics will say that Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, is the greatest theologian to occupy the chair of Peter here in Rome in at least 1,600 years.”
The Columbia University’s Catholic chaplain also said one of Benedict’s lasting legacies will be what he called the reconciliation of faith and reason.
“On the one hand, you have got exaggerated faith separated from reason that can lead to irrationality. And, on the other hand you have an exaggerated secularism that thinks that faith is a danger.
“What Pope Benedict tried to do in his time before the papacy and during the papacy is unite the two.
Shaun Dougherty, board president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, himself said in another interview: “Starting at the age of 10, he was molested and later raped by his parish priest.”
He argues Benedict’s is a legacy of failure on church abuse and of shielding abusers, saying “Pope Benedict will take the legacy questions as to why he fell short and why he shielded people with him to the grave.
The organization as a whole, until they get ahead of it and quit shielding these abusing priests, this will be part of their entire legacy from this point moving forward.
While some will be talking about his legacy, others will be talking about his resignation on February 28, 2013 as announced by the Vatican.
While such papal resignations are extremely rare – only four out of 266 have stepped down—there are precedents in the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.
Marcellinus: This early church pope abdicated or was deposed in 304 after complying with the Roman emperor’s order to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.
Benedict IX: Sold the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI and resigned in 1045.
Celestine V: Overwhelmed by the demands of the office, this hermetic pontiff stepped down after five months as pope in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI prayed at his tomb in the central Italian city of L’Aquila in 2009.
Gregory XII: The last pope to resign, Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.
(HBC, former Vice Prefect of the Catalonia, Spain-based Sodality of Our Lady of Montserrat [San Beda College chapter), was a college catechist and active in the Student Catholic Action including the Workers of Mercy)