VATICAN CITY -- Seven months after leaving the papacy, emeritus Pope Benedict XVI broke his self-imposed silence Tuesday by releasing a letter to one of Italy's best-known atheists in which he denied covering up for sexually abusive priests and defended Christianity to non-believers.
It was the first work published by Benedict since he retired and his first-ever denial of personal responsibility for the sex scandal. But what made the letter published in La Repubblica more remarkable was that it appeared just two weeks after Pope Francis penned a similar letter to the newspaper's atheist editor.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the appearance of the letters was pure coincidence. But they provide evidence that the two men in white, who live across the Vatican gardens from one another, are of the same mind about the need for such dialogue and may even be collaborating on it.
Benedict wrote his letter to Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian atheist and mathematician who in 2011 wrote a book titled "Dear Pope, I'm Writing to You." The book was Odifreddi's reaction to Benedict's classic "Introduction to Christianity," perhaps his best-known work.
In his book, Odifreddi posed a series of polemical arguments about the Catholic faith, including the church's sex abuse scandal.
For nearly a quarter-century, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office responsible for handling abuse cases. He was prefect when the scandal first exploded in the U.S. in 2002 and was pope when it erupted on a global scale in 2010 with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and beyond, of bishops who covered up for pedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes and in some cases actively interfered with bishops trying to report pedophiles to police.
In his letter, Benedict denies personal responsibility. "I never tried to cover these things up," he wrote.
"That the power of evil penetrated so far into the interior world of the faith is a suffering that we must bear, but at the same time, we must do everything to prevent it from repeating," he wrote, according to Repubblica. "Neither is it comforting to know that, according to research, the percentage of priests who commit these crimes isn't any higher than the percentage of other similar professions. Regardless, one shouldn't present this deviation as if it were something specific to Catholicism."
As prefect, Ratzinger in 2001 compelled bishops around the world to send all credible cases of abuse to his office for review. He took the move because it had become clear to him that bishops were merely shuffling abusive priests around, rather than subjecting them to church trials.
Ratzinger actually tried in 1988 to get around the cumbersome church trials, asking the Vatican's legal office for quicker ways to permanently remove priests who raped and molested children. But he was rebuffed, with the legal office saying that doing so would compromise the priests' ability to defend themselves.
Ratzinger was hamstrung by Pope John Paul II's unspoken policy against letting young men leave the priesthood and his overriding concern with preserving the rights of accused clerics, often at the expense of victims – a concern formed in part by his experiences in communist-controlled Poland, where priests were often accused of trumped-up charges.
Eventually, a year after the abuse scandal exploded in the U.S., Ratzinger pushed through administrative changes in 2003 and 2004 that enabled his office to permanently remove abusers without going through a church trial. But that decision came decades after his office began receiving a steady stream of documentation about the scale of abuse in the U.S. – far too late, according to victims.
"In the church's entire history, no one knew more but did less to protect kids than Benedict," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the U.S.-based victims' advocacy group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "As head of CDF, thousands of cases of predator priests crossed his desk. Did he choose to warn families or call police about even one of those dangerous clerics? No. That, by definition, is a cover-up."
After the 2010 explosion of abuse cases, the Vatican issued informal guidelines ordering bishops to report suspected abusers to police in countries where it is required. But the Vatican has yet to remove or sanction any bishop who covered up for an abuser.
Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign when he retired Feb. 28, setting the stage for the election of Francis two weeks later. Benedict said at the time that he would spend his final years "hidden from the world," living in a converted monastery tucked behind St. Peter's Basilica, reading and praying.
Benedict's decision to cloister himself was in part due to his own shy, bookish nature, but also to make clear that he was no longer pope and that his successor was in charge.
Benedict has been seen only a handful of times since his retirement and only once with Francis, at an official Vatican ceremony in July. A prolific writer, he has published nothing since retiring except for the encyclical "The Light of Faith," which was signed by Francis but was actually written almost entirely by Benedict.
Francis responded in the same pages to a series of questions posed to him by Repubblica's atheist editor in editorials this summer.
Francis' letter was clearly not penned by his own hand: It involved language that is much closer to Benedict's style, including arcane references to early church fathers like Tertullian whom only Benedict and a few others at the Vatican have ever cited. But Lombardi denied the two had collaborated on it.
"They are autonomous and distinct initiatives," Lombardi told The Associated Press.
In Benedict's letter, he takes Odifreddi to task for what he said was the "aggressiveness" of his book, and responds to many of the arguments with piqued criticism himself.
"What you say about the figure of Jesus isn't worthy of your scientific standing," wrote Benedict, who authored a highly praised, three-volume work on the Jesus Christ during his pontificate.
He similarly criticizes Odifreddi's "religion of mathematics" as "empty" since it doesn't even consider three fundamental themes for humanity: freedom, love and evil.
On evolution, he wrote: "If you want to substitute God with Nature, the question remains: What does this Nature consist of? Nowhere do you define it and it appears rather like an irrational divinity that doesn't explain anything."
Odifreddi, for his part, wrote in an accompanying piece Tuesday that he was stunned to have received the letter, though he said he wrote the book precisely in hopes Benedict might read it. He said he sought, and obtained, Benedict's permission to publish the letter.
He planned to re-issue his book with Benedict's letter included, calling the exchange "an unprecedented dialogue between a theologian pope and an atheist mathematician, divided in most everything but drawn together by at least one objective: the search for Truth."
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April 19, 2005 -- Elected Pope
On April 19, 2005 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was elected as successor to Pope John Paul II. He became the 265th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church and chose the name Benedict XVI. FILE - Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, in this April 19, 2005, file photo. Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who chose the name of Pope Benedict XVI, became the 265th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis/file)
April 24, 2005 -- Inaugural Mass
On April 24, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI led the inaugural mass of his pontificate at St. Peter's Square. This is the homily that <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato_en.html">he gave</a>. VATICAN CITY - APRIL 24: Pope Benedict XVI (L) leads his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square April 24, 2005 in Vatican City. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims attended the first mass led by the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. (Photo by Davide Santorelli/Getty Images)
Aug. 18-21, 2005: First Trip to Germany
From Aug. 18-21, 2005 Pope Benedict XVI went on his first trip to his native Germany. There he attended the World Youth Day festivities and visited a synagogue, becoming one of the only two popes (the other was his predecessor John Paul II) since St. Peter. He also initiated dialogue with the Muslim and Protestant communities. COLOGNE, GERMANY - AUGUST 21: Pope Benedict XVI (C) celebrates World Youth Day Mass at the Marienfeld with an estimated 900,000 pilgrims and clerics attending on August 21, 2005 near Cologne, Germany. Hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims have descended on the city for World Youth Day and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, who arrived last Thursday for a four-day visit. (Photo by Guiseppe Cacace/Getty Images)
Nov. 29 2005 - Vatican Bans Gays From Priesthood
On Nov. 29, 2005, the Congregation for Catholic Education issues a document effectively banning gays from the Seminary and Holy Orders. According to Catholic World News translation: <blockquote>this department, in agreement with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, holds it necessary clearly to affirm that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.</blockquote> Read the whole letter <a href="http://www.catholicculture.org/news/features/index.cfm?recnum=40891">here</a>. ROME - SEPTEMBER 30: Pope Benedict XVI greets a crowd as he arrives at the Pediatric Hospital 'Bambin Gesu' for a visit September 30, 2005 in Rome, Italy. Reports say the Vatican may be releasing a directive to exclude most gay candidates from becoming priests. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Jan. 25, 2006 - Released 1st Encyclical on Love
On Jan, 25, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI released his first encyclical <em>Deus Caritas Est</em>, or God is Love. The encyclical can be read <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html">here</a>. VATICAN CITY - JANUARY 25: A nun holds Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical at St. Peter's Square, January 25, 2006 in Vatican City. The Pontiff released his first encyclical entitled 'God is Love' in which he explored the relationship between God's love for mankind and the church's work for charity. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
May 25-28, 2006: Trip to Poland
Pope Benedict visited Poland from May 25-28, 2006. In addition to meeting with religious leaders, he <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5024324.stm">visited</a> the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. Benedict XVI, who was an involuntary member of Hitler Youth, lit a candle and met 32 survivors, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5024324.stm">BBC notes</a>. He <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060528_auschwitz-birkenau_en.html">prayed for peace</a> in his native language German, which caused some controversy. <a href="http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/04/18/chronology-of-five-years-of-pope-benedicts-papacy/">Reuters notes</a> that his speech disappointed some Jewish groups because it did not mention antisemitism. In this May 28, 2006 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI walks through the gate of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, to pay his respects to the Holocaust victims. Sign at left reads "stop" in German and Polish. Sign above the gate reads "Arbeit macht frei," German for "work will set you free." (AP Photo/Diether Endlicher)
Sept. 12, 2006 -- Regensburg Lecture
Pope Benedict XVI visited his native Germany on his second papal trip from Sept. 9 to Sept. 14, 2006. On Sept. 12, he gave a lecture at Regensburg University where he formerly served as a professor of theology. The lecture was titled "Faith, Reason and the University -- Memories and Reflections." In that lecture, he cited remarks by a 14th century Byzantine emperor that provoked protests around the world and hurt the sentiments of Muslim leaders. According to the Vatican website, the statement quoted was: <blockquote>Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.</blockquote> The entire address can be read <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html">here</a>. On Sept. 17, Pope Benedict <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14871562/#.US8bOBlPFOE">apologized for his remarks</a>, stating that it did not express his personal views and on Sept. 25 <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060925_ambasciatori-paesi-arabi_en.html">issued a letter</a> to the ambassadors of Muslim-majority countries emphasizing his respect for Islam, and the need for interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue. REGENSBURG, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 12: In this picture released by the Vatican Newspaper L'Osservatore Romano on September 16, 2006 Pope Benedict XVI holds a speech to faculty and students of the University of Regensburg on September 12, 2006 in Regensburg, Germany. Muslim leaders condem remarks made by the Pope during his last visit in Germany, about Islam. The strongest denunciations came from Turkey where Benedict is scheduled to visit in November as his first trip as Pope to a Muslim country. (Photo by Arturo Mari L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Pool via Getty Images)
Nov. 28-Dec 1, 2006 -- Turkey Visit
Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey from Nov. 28 until Dec 1, 2006. This was his first papal trip to a Muslim-majority country. Barely months after his controversial remarks at Regensburg, his visit was met by protests. While there, Pope Benedict XVI visited the famous Blue Mosque, where he prayed along with Muslim clerics. His visited was the second papal visit to a Muslim place of worship, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6158811.stm">BBC notes</a>. ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 30: Pope Benedict XVI visits the Ottoman era Sultanahmet mosque, known as the Blue Mosque on November 30, 2006 in Istanbul. Pope Benedict XVI began the third and busiest day of his four-day visit to Turkey by attending a St. Andrew's day mass celebrated by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, at the Orthodox Patriarchate. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
July 7, 2007 -- Eases Restrictions on Latin Mass
On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI eased restrictions on the use of an <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/world/08POPE.html?_r=0">older Latin mass</a>, known as the Tridentine Mass. This move was hailed by some traditionalists in the Church like the SSPX, and protested by Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League, which called it a "body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations," the New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/world/08POPE.html?_r=0">notes</a>. The apostolic letter "Summorum Pontificum" issued by Pope Benedict "motu proprio" can be read <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20070707_lettera-vescovi_en.html">here</a>. Vatican City, VATICAN CITY STATE: Pope Benedict XVI reads from a latin gospel in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican 29 June 2007, during a mass for the celebration of feast for the apostles Peter and Paul, patrons of the church, prior to giving the pallium to 46 bishops and archbishops from around the world. The pontiff will publish a decree in the coming days allowing greater use of mass in Latin signalling a bid to heal a decades-old split in the Roman Catholic Church. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Nov. 30, 2007 -- Released Second Enyclical on Hope
On Nov. 30, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI released his second encyclical called 'Spe Salvi' (Saved Through Hope). The encyclical can be read <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi_en.html">here</a>. Pope Benedict XVI signs his second encyclical, with the Latin title 'Spe Salvi' (Saved Through Hope), 30 November 2007 in Vatican. The popes have traditionally issued such letters as guidance for the Roman Catholic Church as a whole on matters of doctrine, morals or discipline. AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO
Feb. 5, 2008 -- Changes to Good Friday Prayer for the Jews
The Good Friday Prayer for the Jews is an annual prayer in the Christian liturgy. On Feb. 5, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI issued <a href="http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope_benedict_xvi_issues_new_good_friday_prayer_for_the_jews/">changes to Good Friday Prayer for the Jews</a> after receiving complaints from both Jewish and Catholic leaders. These complaints were sparked by the permission he gave the previous year to celebrate the Tridentine mass. The new prayer reads thus: Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. (Let us pray. Kneel. Rise.) Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen. VATICAN CITY - DECEMBER 25: Pope Benedict XVI delivers his Christmas Urbi Et Orbi blessing from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on December 25, 2008 in the Vatican City. (Photo by L'Osservatore Romano - Vatican Pool via Getty Images)
April 15-20, 2008 -- Visit to the United States
Pope Benedict XVI <a href="http://articles.cnn.com/2008-04-15/us/pope.us_1_pope-benedict-xvi-papal-visit-pontiff?_s=PM:US">visited the United States</a> from April 15-20, 2008. Highlights from the trip include being received at the White House, addressing American bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, address to the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York and mass at Ground Zero. In a homily at St. Patrick's Cathedral, he spoke about the child sex abuse scandal and of the need for healing and in Washington DC, he met with victims of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/us/nationalspecial2/18pope.html?pagewanted=all">clergy child abuse</a>. Pope Benedict XVI walks down the ramp to Ground Zero in New York on April 20, 2008. Benedict XVI Sunday pleaded for an end to sectarian hatreds as he became the first pontiff to pray at Ground Zero, the site where nearly 3,000 people died in the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO / Ettore Ferrari/POOL (Photo credit should read ETTORE FERRARI/AFP/Getty Images)
July 13-21, 2008: Australia Visit
Pope Benedict XVI visited Australia from July 13-21, 2008. He participated in the World Youth Day festivities. On 19 July, 2008, in a sermon at St. Mary's Cathedral, he apologized for child sex abuse saying: <blockquote>I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.</blockquote> The sermon in full can be read <a href="http://wdtprs.com/blog/2008/07/scholion-pope-benedicts-sermon-in-st-marys-cathedral-sydney/">here</a>. He also met with victims of <a href="http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gKSHzEnFg_IjhlGLRKN9EoDNf3jg">child sex abuse</a>. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 21: His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI concludes his World Youth Day activities by thanking all the volunteers at The Domain on July 21, 2008 in Sydney, Australia. Organised every two to three years by the Catholic Church, World Youth Day (WYD) is an invitation from the Pope to the youth of the world to celebrate their faith. The celebration, being held in Sydney from July 15 to July 20, 2008, will mark the first visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Australia. (Photo by Dean Lewins-Pool/Getty Images)
Jan. 24, 2009: Lifts Excommuncation of Traditionalist Bishops
On Jan. 24, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of four Traditionalist bishops, including a Holocaust denier, which caused outrage amongst Jewish groups. The Vatican said this move was part of Benedict XVI's attempt to bring the dissident SSPX back into the Vatican fold, NBC <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/id/28831756/#.US8vDhlPFOE">notes</a>. On March 12, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090310_remissione-scomunica_en.html">sent a letter</a> to the world's bishops explaining this decision. Pope Benedict XVI sets free a dove from the window of his apartment at the end of his Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter's square at the Vatican on January 25, 2009. The pontiff has decided to cancel the excommunication of four bishops ordained in 1998 by the controversial French bishop Marcel Lefebvre. The latter, who died in 1991, was excommunicated in 1988 by the then-Pope Jean Paul II for having ordained the bishops in defiance of the Vatican's authority. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO
March 17-23, 2009: Visit to Cameroon and Angola
Pope Benedict XVI visited Cameroon and Angola from March 17-23, 2009. The visit was marked by controversy, because he made a statement reaffirming the ban on condoms, saying it was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/17/pope-condoms-not-the-answ_n_175623.html">not the solution to AIDS</a>. FILE - In this Tuesday, March 17, 2009, file photo, an African clergyman kisses Pope Benedict XVI's ring as the pope arrives at the airport in Yaounde, Cameroon. Benedict announced Monday Feb. 11, 2013 he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
May 8-15, 2009: Visit to Jordan, Israel and Palestinian Territories
Pope Benedict XVI visited Jordan, Israel and Palestinian Territories from May 8-15, 2009. The visit was mired in controversy because Benedict XVI had backed the beatification of <a href="http://www.cathnews.com/article.aspx?aeid=9363">Pius XII</a>, the Holocaust-era pope and Jewish leaders assert that the <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2009/05/2009510175658903863.html">pope did not do enough</a> to speak out against Nazi efforts, Al Jazeera notes. Benedict also made a plea for an <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/pope-challenges-israel-to-give-palestinians-homeland-1684587.html">independent Palestinian state</a>. FILE - In this Tuesday, May 12, 2009 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI places a note in the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem's Old City. Benedict announced Monday Feb. 11, 2013 he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.(AP Photo/David Silverman, Pool)
July 7, 2009: Released Third Enyclical on Charity
On July 7, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI released his third encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). The encyclical can be read <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html">here</a>. VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JULY 07: Pope Benedict XVI signs his new Encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate at his studio on July 7, 2009 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Pool via Getty Images)
Jan. 17. 2010: Visits Synagogue in Rome
On Jan. 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI became the second pope to visit Rome's main synagogue. The <a href="http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/pope-welcomed-rome-synagogue-despite-tensions">visit was clouded</a> by the Vatican's move to beatify Nazi-era Pope Pius XII. Still, Pope Benedict XVI ensured the Catholic Church was committed to dialogue with Jews. Pope Benedict XVI (L) stands by chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni in Rome's main Synagogue on January 17, 2010. The Roman Catholic Church provided 'often hidden and discreet' support for Jews during the Holocaust, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday during a landmark visit to Rome's main synagogue.AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE
March 19, 2010: Issues Apology To Ireland
On 19 March, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI issues heartfelt apology to the people of Ireland, and to the victims of child abuse, the BBC <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8578064.stm">notes</a>. "I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel," he wrote. The letter can be read <a href="http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20100319_church-ireland_en.html">here</a>. A priest takes mass at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Friday, March, 23, 2010. Pope Benedict has written a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland with guidelines on preventing and punishing sexual abuse of children by priests. It is unknown if the letter, to be read at Sunday Mass, includes an apology. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
April 17-18, 2010: Trip to Malta
Pope Benedict XVI visited Malta from April 17-18, 2010. While in Malta, he met with eight people who were sexually abused by priests. Per <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/18/AR2010041802807.html">Reuters report</a>, he promised that the church is doing "all in its power" to bring the guilty to justice and protect the young. Pope Benedict XVI (C) arrives to celebrate a Pontifical Mass on the Granaries on April 18, 2010 in Floriana. The 83-year-old pope arrived in Malta the day before on his first foreign trip since having to deal with the fallout from a wave of priest sex abuse scandals across Europe and the Americas. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI
Nov. 6-7, 2010: Spain Trip
Pope Benedict XVI visited Spain Nov. 6-7, 2010. While in Spain, he saw rise of anti-church sentiment, the New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/world/europe/07pope.html">notes</a>, spoke out against abortion and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/07/pope-gay-marriage-spain_n_780049.html">gay marriage</a>. Pope Benedict XVI (R) arrives to celebrate a mass consecrating the Sagrada Familia in basilica on November 7, 2010, on his two-day visit in Spain. Pope Benedict XVI warned of a very strong clash between faith and modernity in Spain and he called for dialogue, not confrontation. The pontiff said an anti-clerical movement erupted in Spain in the 1930s in the run-up to the Spanish Civil War. AFP PHOTO/ RAFA RIVAS
July 25, 2011: Vatican Recalls Irish Ambassador
The Vatican has recalled its ambassador to Ireland following severe criticism by the Irish parliament of the Church's role in covering up child sex abuse, <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/25/pope-ireland-ambassador-idUSLDE76O0EZ20110725">Reuters reports</a>. FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the Paul VI hall for his weekly general audience at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI is addressing Ireland on Saturday, March 19, 2010 in an unprecedented letter apologizing for chronic Catholic child abuse in this once-devout land. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, file)
Oct. 27, 2011: Hosts Interfaith Meeting
Pope Benedict XVI hosted some 300 representatives of world religions here on Thursday (Oct. 27) for an interfaith summit on justice and peace, with distinct changes made to the event first convened 25 years ago by Pope John Paul II. Benedict, who had been critical of John Paul's 1986 event, welcomed a small group of agnostics and, in a bid to avoid the impression that all religions are identical, made prayer private and optional, Religion News Service <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/assisi-interfaith-summit-2011_n_1062649.html">reports</a>. In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI receives a delegation of religious leaders from all over the world he met at a peace meeting in Assisi yesterday, at the Vatican Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. The pontiff invited Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims to a pilgrimage to the Umbrian hilltop town of Assisi where 25 years ago Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama and others spent the day praying for peace amid the Cold War. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, HO)
Jan. 6, 2012: Names 22 New Cardinals
On Jan 6, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named 22 new cardinals who were <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/18/world/europe/vatican-new-cardinals">appointed in Feb. 2012</a>. In an unusual move, Pope Benedict XVI named another <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/24/world/europe/vatican-new-cardinals">6 cardinals in Nov. 2012</a>. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for the mass in solemnity of the chair of St. Peter with new Cardinals in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on February 19, 2012. The Pontiff put his stamp of authority on the body that will elect his successor as he appointed 22 new cardinals at a time of roiling tensions in the Vatican administration. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Oct. 6, 2012: Paolo Gabriele Found Guilty
Pope Benedict XVI's former butler, Paolo Gabiele, was convicted on Oct. 6, 2012, of aggravated theft after stealing the pontiff's personal papers and leaking them to the media in a bid to expose the "evil and corruption" in the Catholic Church. The pope <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/22/pope-pardons-ex-butler-paulo-gabriele_n_2351602.html">pardoned him around Christmas</a>. Speculations have been rife has to whether Pope Benedict's resignation is linked to the "Vatileaks" scandal. More on that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/vatileaks">here</a>. FILE - In this file photo taken Wednesday, May 2, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI, right, arrives in St. Peter's square at the Vatican for a general audience as his then-butler Paolo Gabriele, bottom, and his personal secretary Georg Gaenswein sit in the car with him. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)
Dec 3, 2012: Joins Twitter
On Dec. 3, 2012, Pope Benedict <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/03/pope-joins-twitter_n_2230411.html">joined Twitter</a>. However, he did not send out a tweet until days later on Dec. 12, 2012. His <a href="https://twitter.com/Pontifex/status/278808536404852736">first tweet</a> said: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response, I bless all of you from my heart." In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI pushes a button on a tablet at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012. In perhaps the most drawn out Twitter launch ever, Pope Benedict XVI pushed the button on a tablet brought to him at the end of his general audience Wednesday. It read: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."Later in the day he was to respond to a few messages sent to him from around the world.As the countdown to his first tweet from his Twitter handle (at)Pontifex neared, the pope had garnered nearly 1 million followers in the eight languages of his account. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, ho)
Feb 11, 2013: Announces He Will Abdicate
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI, third from left, delivers his message at the end of a meeting of Vatican cardinals, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign Feb. 28 - the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. From left are Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Mons. Franco Camaldo, and Mons. Guido Marini, pope aides. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)