Arguably the most incendiary issue Benedict faced when he became pope was the ongoing fallout from the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, as well as accusations of an attempted cover-up by the Church administration.
When Benedict became pope in 2005, the Catholic Church was in the midst of a very public reckoning with its history of sexual abuse – a crisis he was all too familiar with. In 2001, John Paul II authorized the CDF to centralize all investigations into allegations of abuse, removing that power from local dioceses after it became clear that they often failed to take action against priest predators. As head of the CDF, then-Cardinal Ratzinger worked to establish new procedures for reporting and punishing clergy accused of sexual abuse.
As pope, Benedict has repeatedly spoken out against the Church’s legacy of child sex abuse, apologized to victims and deposed hundreds of priests found guilty. But for many, his actions backfired, in part because he failed to publicize the Vatican’s investigations into abuse allegations — a lack of transparency that allowed dioceses to keep those allegations secret from parishioners and law enforcement.
“In the entire history of the Church, no one knew more but did less to protect children from Benedict,” the Survivors Network of Priests Abused (SNAP) said in a statement in 2013 in response to the pope emeritus’ public allegation that he did. not be involved in a “cover-up” of office abuse. “As head of the CDF, thousands of cases of predatory priests crossed his office. Did he choose to warn families or call the police about even one of these dangerous clerics? No. This, by definition, is a cover-up.”
Rumors of corruption and secret shenanigans at the Holy See also plagued Benedict’s tenure as pope, culminating in the “Vatileaks” scandal in 2012.
On February 10, 2013, Benedict shocked the world by announcing his resignation from the papacy. “After repeatedly examining my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my powers, due to advanced age, are no longer suitable for the adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said in his official statement.
His decision to retire was later dramatized in the 2019 film The two Popesin which Benedict was played by Anthony Hopkins, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.
As Pope Emeritus, Benedict made a conscious effort to stay out of the public eye. Apparently he did not like being known by such a high title after his resignation and asked others to simply call him “Father Benedict”. He did, however, make public appearances at events of theological significance, such as the canonization Mass of Popes John XIII and John Paul II on April 27, 2014.
On September 4, 2020, at the age of 93 years, four months and 19 days, Benedict became the longest-serving Pope in history.