(RNS) Not all Catholics appreciated Pope Benedict XVI's staunch defense of Christian orthodoxy, traditional marriage and life from conception to natural death. But American evangelicals sure did.
As word spread on Monday (Feb. 11) of Benedict's resignation, many evangelicals lamented the impending loss of a powerful spokesman for their conservative causes.
Pope Benedict XVI has exemplified moral courage and an unwavering commitment to the Gospel message," said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian political group.
"We honor him for his lifelong service to the Lord and his inestimable intellectual contribution to Christian orthodoxy."
The high praise -- "evangelical Benedictions," you might say -- extended beyond U.S. borders as well.
"I appreciate his courage of ideas, even when they did not resonate with contemporary attitudes," said Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance.
"I was especially moved by his boldness in warning us of the dangers of moral relativism and the tyranny of self-centered ideologies.?
Just a generation or two ago, such lavish praise might have been unthinkable. During the 1960s, evangelist Billy Graham -- sometimes dubbed the Protestant pope -- took heat for inviting Catholics to join his revivals.
But after the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), denominational barriers fell and ecumenism prospered.
Meanwhile, evangelicals developed an appreciation for Catholic culture, and Catholics found ready evangelical allies in the battles against secularism, abortion and gay rights.
"One of the challenges of evangelical Protestantism as it became a political force was to find a vocabulary to talk about the role of Christian faith in a diverse, pluralistic society like the United States," said R.R. Reno, executive editor of First Things, an interreligious journal. "By and large, they turned to Catholicism."
The founder of First Things, the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, was a key figure in bridging the gap between Catholics and evangelicals. Along with the late evangelical activist Charles Colson, he formed Evangelicals and Catholics Together in 1994, a group that bonded, in part, over shared admiration for the late Pope John Paul II.
"We rejoice together that the Roman Catholic Church -- as affirmed by the Second Vatican Council and boldly exemplified in the ministry of John Paul II -- is strongly committed to religious freedom and, consequently, to the defense of all human rights," the group wrote in a manifesto that quotes John Paul three times.
More recently, Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox leaders backed the "Manhattan Declaration" in 2009, a document that professes common support for "the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty."
The political fruits of evangelical-Catholic marriage might be seen in the presidential candidacy of Rick Santorum, who enjoyed strong backing from evangelicals, even as he struggled to connect with Catholics.
Which is not to say that evangelical leaders are about to "swim the Tiber," as they say, and convert to Catholicism.
"At least one of the many faults of the papacy is the idea that a monarchical head can speak for any church," the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., tweeted on Monday.
Still, the evangelical leader balanced his doctrinal critique with the kind of praise that is the hallmark of this "ecumenism of the trenches" among allies in today's culture wars.
"Pope Benedict has offered a brave and intelligent defense of truth against a relativist tide," Mohler tweeted, "and he has been a stalwart friend of life."
When Benedict visited New York and Washington in 2008, evangelical theologian and Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw said the pope "has an important pastoral role in the broader Christian community."
"In many ways and on many subjects, he speaks for me," Mouw wrote.
On Monday as well, some Christians sounded as if they had lost one of their own in Benedict.
"Although not a Catholic, I found myself drawn to him," wrote Steven Perkins, a high school teacher in Indiana who blogs under the name Magister Christianus.
"I savored his writings. I followed his activities. I thrilled at his efforts to fight heterodoxy and downright heresy. I prayed fervently for him."
Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said evangelicals might be tempted to view Benedict as the retiring coach of a rival football team. That's a far cry from another metaphor many evangelicals once used for the papacy: Mother of Harlots.
But things have changed, Moore said, and evangelicals need all the allies they can get. Benedict spoke up for persecuted Christians around the world, countered "soul-decaying secularism" and defended the dignity of human life, said the evangelical scholar.
"As Protestant Christians, we will disagree with this Pope, and with the next one, on all sorts of things," Moore wrote on his blog on Monday.
"But let's pray the next pope, like this one, will remember what it means to be human, and will remind the rest of us when we forget."
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REGENSBURG, Germany — Pope Benedict XVI is planning to stay out of the public eye following his retirement at the end of the month but may stand ready to advise his successor if asked, his brother said Tuesday after talking with the pontiff.
Speaking to reporters at his home in the southern German city of Regensburg, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, who was ordained on the same day in 1951 as his brother Joseph, said he didn't expect Benedict's continued presence in the Vatican to intimidate the next pope.
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02/12/2013 9:46 PM EST
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Much is at stake with the selection of Pope Benedict XVI's successor, including a lot of money. Paddy Power, Europe's largest bookmaker, has already taken more than £100,000 in bets, and expects to see multi-million-pound action closer to next month's conclave at the Sistine Chapel.
While Las Vegas casinos refuse to accept such bets for reasons of "taste," Paddy Power is one of several major international bookmakers currently offering papal markets, not only on who will be the next pope, but what papal name he'll choose, his country of origin, and the length of the papal conclave, among others.
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02/12/2013 6:09 PM EST
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A group of topless activists scandalized visitors at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday by disrobing in public to celebrate Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.
The small group of women, all affiliated with radical feminist group FEMEN, flashed their breasts and banged on bells in the cathedral, shouting slogans such as, "Bye Bye Benedict" and "No more homophobe," according to the Agence France-Presse.
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02/12/2013 6:06 PM EST
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Jeannine Gramick, a Roman Catholic nun and co-founder of a U.S. ministry for gay and lesbian Catholics, met Pope Benedict XVI only once, by chance, on a plane flying from Baltimore to Rome in the late-'90s. Because of her work with the lesbian and gay community, Gramick had by then been under investigation by the Vatican for more than two decades.
The encounter was serendipitous, Gramick recalled Monday after hearing news of Benedict's resignation. Gramick and leaders at her ministry had been worried that she would be excommunicated. She was traveling with the head of her order to Munich, via Rome, to pray that she would keep her place in the church. When she boarded the plane, she saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became pope, sitting with two empty seats beside him. She mustered her courage and sat next to him. "When he found out who I was, he just smiled and said 'Oh, I've known about you for 20 years,'" she said.
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02/12/2013 5:52 PM EST
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Nuns pray inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. With a few words in Latin, Pope Benedict XVI did what no pope has done in more than half a millennium, stunning the world by announcing his resignation Monday and leaving the already troubled Catholic Church to replace the leader of its 1 billion followers by Easter. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
02/12/2013 5:24 PM EST
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02/12/2013 5:10 PM EST
Cardinal Seán O'Malley, OFM, Cap: Pope Benedict Was Committed To Ensure Abuse Would Not Be Repeated
Yesterday morning the Church and the world learned that Pope Benedict XVI, following an extended period of prayer and reflection, discerned that he would resign the papacy at the end of this month. This news certainly came as a great surprise to all of us. It would be reasonable to consider that the Holy Father's advancing age and the responsibilities of being the leader for more than one billion Catholics, including the demands of extensive international travel, played a central role in his decision. We join the universal Church in offering prayerful gratitude for the Holy Father's faith, courage and his leadership as the successor of Peter.
At this time it is appropriate for the Church and all people of good faith to reflect on Pope Benedict's legacy and achievements. He brought unique capabilities to the papacy as a highly qualified scholar and teacher, and as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in service to Blessed John Paul II. His fidelity to maintaining the truth and clarity of the Catholic faith, to cultivating ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and in reaching out to inspire the next generation of Catholics have been great gifts to us all.
During the course of the past eight years Pope Benedict embraced the papacy with the heart of a kind and caring shepherd, always holding the spiritual and pastoral care of the people of God to be the highest priority. The Holy Father also generously used his superior intellectual gifts, well established through his reputation as a renowned scholar, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church with people from all walks of life throughout the world. He guided the Church through unprecedented challenges, always finding strength in Jesus' promise to be with us always, and led a world-wide renewal of evangelization that will influence the Catholicism for generations to come.
The Archdiocese of Boston in particular has been greatly blessed by Pope Benedict's care and concern.In all of my conversations with him he has always asked me to assure this local Church of his prayers and encouragement. I will always hold the Holy Father's 2008 meeting with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and our presentation of the Book of Names of living and deceased survivors, as one of the most powerful experiences of my life and priesthood.
His overwhelming sorrow that such heinous crimes were perpetrated on the survivors and his heartfelt expression of love and concern were deeply moving, as was his absolute commitment that the abuse never be repeated and that the Church maintain her vigilance to do everything possible to insure the safety of children.
While there will be much speculation in the days and weeks ahead regarding who will follow the Holy Father to the Chair of Peter, at this moment we are called to reflect on Pope Benedict's leadership; offering prayers of gratitude for this servant of Christ who so dearly loves all of God's people. At this extraordinary moment in the life of the Church, we pray for the wisdom and grace of the Holy Spirit and the strength given by our Lord, who, assures us that he will be with us always.
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