Arguably the most inflammatory issue Benedict faced when he became pope was the lingering fallout from the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, as well as allegations of a cover-up by church officials.
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 about which he was well informed. In 2001, John Paul II authorized the CDF to centralize all investigations into allegations of abuse, removing this power from local dioceses after it became clear that they often failed to take action against predatory priests. As head of the CDF, then-Cardinal Ratzinger worked to establish new procedures for reporting and punishing clergymen accused of sexual abuse.
As Pope, Benedict has repeatedly spoken out against the Church’s legacy of child sexual abuse, apologizing to victims and absolving hundreds of priests who had been found guilty. For many, however, his actions were unsuccessful, in part because he failed to make public the Vatican’s investigation into allegations of abuse — a lack of transparency that has allowed dioceses to keep these allegations secret from parishioners and law enforcement officials.
“In the entire history of the Church, no one has known more but done less to protect children than Benedict,” the Priestly Abuse Survivors Network (SNAP) said in a 2013 statement in response to the emeritus’s public claim Pope’s statement that he had not engaged in a “cover-up” of clergy abuse. “Thousands of robber priest cases passed through his desk as head of the CDF. Did he choose to warn families or call the police about one of these dangerous clergymen? No. This is a cover-up by definition.”
Rumors of corruption and a secret cabal in the Holy See also plagued Benedict’s tenure as Pope, culminating in the 2012 “Vatileaks” scandal.
On February 10, 2013, Benedict shocked the world by announcing his resignation from the papacy. “After repeated examination of my conscience before God, I have come to the conclusion that, because of my advanced age, my strength is no longer fit for a proper exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said in his official statement.
His decision to retire was later dramatized in the 2019 film The Two Popes, in which Benedict was portrayed 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 didn’t like being known by such a high title after his retirement, and asked others to simply call him “Father Benedict”. He did, however, appear publicly at events of theological importance, such as Pope John XIII’s canonization mass. And Pope 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-living Pope in history.