Arguably the problem Benedict faced upon becoming pope was the ongoing fallout from child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and allegations of a cover-up by the church administration.
When Benedict became pope in 2005, the Catholic Church was in the midst of a public reckoning with its history of sexual abuse — a crisis he was well aware of. In 2001, John Paul II authorized the CDF to focus all investigations into allegations of abuse, removing that authority 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 priests accused of sexual abuse.
As pope, Benedict has repeatedly spoken out against the church’s legacy of child sex abuse, apologizing to victims and dismissing hundreds of priests found guilty. To many, however, his actions fell short, as he failed to make public the Vatican’s investigations into abuse allegations — a lack of transparency that enabled 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 Survivors Network (SNAP), which has been vilified by clergy, said in a statement in 2013 in response to the pope emeritus’ public statement. Not to engage in ‘covering up’ of clerical abuse. “As head of the CDF, thousands of cases of predatory priests crossed his desk. Did he choose to warn the families or call the police about even one of those dangerous priests? No. That, by definition, is a cover-up.
Rumors of corruption and secret cabals in the Holy See 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 as Pope. “After repeatedly examining my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my abilities, 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 a 2019 film Two PopesBenedict was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in it.
As Pope Emeritus, Benedict made a conscious effort to stay out of the public eye. After his resignation he disliked being called by such a lofty title and asked others to call him “Father Benedict”. However, he made public appearances at theologically significant events such as the canonization Mass of Pope John XIII 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-lived pope in history.