By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict was cheered by conservatives for trying to reaffirm traditional Catholic identity but liberals accused him of turning back the clock on reforms and hurting dialogue with Muslims, Jews and other Christians.
The 85-year-old German-born pontiff announced on Monday he would step down at the end of the month because the effects of old age meant he was unable to complete his ministry. It was a decision that stunned Church officials and Catholics around the world, but one that he had hinted at in the past.
Benedict enjoyed relatively good health most of his life but the first sign that he was slowing down came in October 2011, when he began using a wheeled platform to move up the main aisle of St. Peter's Basilica.
In a book in 2010, he said he would not hesitate to become the first pontiff to resign willingly in more than 700 years if he felt himself no longer able, "physically, psychologically and spiritually" to run the Catholic Church
Before he was elected pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known as "God's rottweiler" because of his stern stand on theological issues. But it became clear that not only did he not bite, but he barely even barked.
Despite great reverence for his charismatic, globe-trotting predecessor -- whom he put on the fast track to sainthood and beatified in 2011 -- aides said he was determined not to change his quiet manners to imitate John Paul's style.
A professorial type who relaxed by playing the piano, Benedict sought to show the world the gentler side of the man who had been the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer for nearly a quarter of a century.
But child abuse scandals hounded most of his papacy. He ordered an official inquiry into abuse in Ireland, which led to the resignation of several bishops. But the Vatican's relations with once Catholic Ireland plummeted during his papacy, to the point that Dublin closed its embassy to the Holy See in 2011.
Victims demanded that he be investigated by the International Criminal Court but the Vatican said he could not be held responsible for the crimes of others.
Scandal closer to home hit in 2012 when the pontiff's butler was s found to be the source of leaked documents alleging corruption in the Vatican's business dealings, causing an international furore.
The first German pope for 1,000 years, Benedict confronted his country's past when he visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
Calling himself "a son of Germany," he prayed and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims, most of them Jews, died there during World War Two.
Ratzinger served in the Hitler Youth during World War Two when membership was compulsory. He was never a member of the Nazi party and his family opposed Adolf Hitler's regime.
But his trip to Germany also prompted the first major crisis of his pontificate. In a university lecture he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Islam had only brought evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword.
After protests that included attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia, the pope said he regretted any misunderstanding the speech caused.
In a move that was widely seen as conciliatory, he made a historic trip to predominantly Muslim Turkey in 2006 and prayed in Istanbul's Blue Mosque with the city's grand mufti.
But months later, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met the pope and said wounds between Christians and Muslims were still "very deep" as a result of the Regensburg speech.
In 2007 Benedict made appointed a Polish bishop who once spied for communist police. The bishop had to stand down.
Benedict made a successful trip to the United States in 2008. He apologised for the sexual abuse scandal, promised that paedophile priests would go, and comforted abuse victims.
But 2009 became an annus horribilis for the pope as he made one misstep after another.
The Jewish world, as well as many Catholics, were outraged after Benedict lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one who openly denied the Holocaust.
The pope prompted international outrage again in March of 2009, when he told reporters on a plane taking him to Africa and the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS only worsened the problems.
At the Vatican, he preferred to appoint men he trusted blindly and some of his early appointments were controversial.
He chose Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who had worked with him for years in the Vatican's doctrinal office, to be Secretary of State even though Bertone had no diplomatic experience.
One of the themes he often returned to was the threat of relativism, rejecting the concept that moral values are not absolute but relative to those holding them.
"We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognise anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires," he said in a homily at John Paul's funeral, which many believed convinced his brother cardinals to vote for him in the conclave that followed.
Benedict committed himself to Christian unity but other religions criticised him in 2007 when he approved a document that re-stated the Vatican position that all other Christian denominations apart from Catholicism were not full churches of Jesus Christ.
He confirmed his conservative view of other religions in 2011, when an inter-faith meeting in Assisi, Italy did not include the simultaneous common prayer that was held when John Paul initiated the gatherings in 1986.
At the same meeting however, he meekly acknowledged "with great shame" that Christianity had used force in its long history as he joined other religious leaders in condemning violence and terrorism in God's name.
Benedict's relations with Jews had highs and lows.
Jews were offended by his decision to allow a wider use of the old-style Latin Mass and missal, which included a prayer for the conversion of the Jews.
Jews took offence again in December 2009 when he re-started the process putting his wartime predecessor Pius XII, accused by some Jews of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, back on the road to sainthood after a two-year pause for reflection.
However in 2011, he won acclaim by personally exonerating Jews of allegations they were responsible for Christ's death, repudiating the concept of collective Jewish guilt that haunted Christian-Jewish relations for centuries.
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
His critics saw many of his actions as attempts to turn back the clock on reforms enacted by the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, which modernised the Church and encouraged inter-religious dialogue.
He made it easier for married Anglican priests, upset that their church was becoming too liberal, to convert to Catholicism.
Benedict wrote three encyclicals -- the most important form of papal document. His first, "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love) in 2006, was about the various concepts of love, both erotic and spiritual.
The 2007 "Spe Salvi" (Saved by Hope), was an attack on atheism and an appeal to a pessimistic world to find strength in Christian hope. The 2009 Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), called or a re-think of the way the world economy is run.
Under the German's meek demeanour lay a steely intellect ready to dissect theological works for their dogmatic purity and debate fiercely against dissenters.
Ratzinger first gained attention as a liberal theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council.
However, the Marxism and atheism of the 1968 student protests across Europe prompted him to become more conservative to defend the faith against growing secularism.
After stints as a theology professor and then archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger was appointed head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the successor office to the Inquisition, in 1981.
He and Pope John Paul agreed that traditionally sound doctrine and theology had to be restored in the Church after a period of experimentation.
In the CDF office, Ratzinger first turned his attention to the "liberation theology" popular in Latin America, and drew criticism for his severity in ordering the one-year silencing in 1985 of Brazilian friar Leonardo Boff, whose writings were attacked for using Marxist ideas.
Ratzinger issued a firm Vatican denunciation of homosexuality and gay marriage in 1986.
He brought pressure in the 1990s against theologians, mostly in Asia, who saw non-Christian religions as part of God's plan for humanity.
A 2004 document sternly denounced "radical feminism" as an ideology that undermined the family and obscured the natural differences between men and women.
His combative side came out in 2000 in a dispute over a CDF document entitled Dominus Iesus. Aimed at restating the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church against the more inclusive views in Asia, it branded other Christian denominations as deficient or not quite real churches.
Anglican, Lutheran and other Protestant churches which had been in ecumenical dialogue with Rome for years were shocked. They were further upset when Ratzinger dismissed protests from Lutherans as "absurd".
The son of a police chief, he was born in Marktl am Inn in Bavaria, southern Germany, in 1927.
"Neither Ratzinger nor any member of his family was a National Socialist," John Allen, a leading Church expert, wrote in a biography of Ratzinger.
In 2002, he became dean of the College of Cardinals which elected him pontiff three years later. (Editing by Tom Heneghan and Giles Elgood)
BEFORE YOU GO
02/12/2013 10:45 PM EST
Pope's Brother Says Benedict XVI Won't Return Home
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.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 9:46 PM EST
The Latest Betting Line On The Next Pope
Keith Thomson writes in a blog post:
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.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 6:09 PM EST
Topless Feminists Hail Pope Benedict's Resignation
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.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 6:06 PM EST
With Pope Benedict's Resignation, Gay Rights Advocates Hope For Change
HuffPost's Lila Shapiro reports:
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.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 5:52 PM EST
Nuns Pray Inside St. Peter's Basilica
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
Vatican Plans Big Send-Off For Pope Benedict XVI
VATICAN CITY, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Cardinals around the world began informal contacts to discuss who should next lead the Church through a period of major crisis and the Vatican said it planned a big send-off for Pope Benedict before he becomes the first pontiff in centuries to resign.
At a Tuesday news conference on how the pope plans to spend the next two weeks before he steps out of the limelight, the Vatican also disclosed that the 85-year-old Benedict has been wearing a pacemaker since before he was elected pope in 2005.
Continue reading here.
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.
02/12/2013 4:58 PM EST
Cardindal Francis Arinze: 'We Know You Have Done This For The Love Of The Church'
Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, releases a statement:
02/12/2013 3:17 PM EST
The Monastery Where The Pope Is Expected To Live After He Resigns
A view of the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, right, next to the Tower of San Giovanni, inside the Vatican State where Pope Benedict XVI is expected to live after he resigns, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister. Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home. On Tuesday, construction materials littered the front lawn of the house and plastic tubing snaked down from the top floor to a dump truck as the restoration deadline became ever more critical following Benedict's stunning announcement that he would resign Feb. 28 and live his remaining days in prayer. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
02/12/2013 3:15 PM EST
FEMEN Protest Against Pope Benedict XVI
Activists of the Women's Movement FEMEN, protest against the Pope Benedict XVI who announced his resignation yesterday, in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)