TEXAS FAITH: The legacy of Pope Benedict XVI

William Lawrence, dean of SMU Perkins School of Theology, and SMU Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson talk about the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning.

Pope Benedict XVI did not have the same profile as his often-popular and world-famous predecessor. Nor did he have the long tenure of Pope John Paul II. Still, how would you assess the mark Pope Benedict is leaving on Catholicism in particular and religion in general?

MATTHEW WILSON, Associate Professor of Political Science, Southern Methodist University

Pope Benedict continued to be as he was before he took the papacy: a champion of orthodoxy. A lot of Catholics will remember him for that.

He also has an extraordinary intellectual and writing legacy within the church. To name just one thing, his three-volume life of Christ, entitled “Jesus of Nazareth,” is something millions of people around the world have read. It will be a real statement out of his papacy.

He also combined that scholarly erudition, which he clearly had as a trained theologian, with a real humility. He definitely perceived himself as being incredibly graced and honored with the office of the papacy. But he also remained a steadfast champion of orthodoxy. Those are some of the key elements of his legacy.

WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

It will be some years, if not decades, before a serious assessment can be offered regarding the papacy of Benedict XVI. Hence, any comments are at best a preliminary pointer to some of the considerations that will be reviewed or dismissed in future evaluations.

First, there is the matter of his election. He was close to his predecessor, both personally and professionally. In his role directing one of the most important bureaus in the Vatican during the time of John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger had substantial control over doctrinal positions adopted by the Church and substantial control over the hiring or firing of theologians in both ecclesiastical and academic positions. Following the death of John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the most visible figures in the Vatican during the papal funeral and in the conclave that followed. He was a major internal force within the Vatican. Although some commentators nowadays like to talk about his humility, he took bold actions and was an activist in ecclesiastical bureaucracies.

Second, there is the matter of the scandals that have marked his papacy. His comments about Muslims had to be either modified or retracted, and even though he did not make them ex cathedra (that is, under the cloak of infallibility), it is not a simple matter for a pope to revise publicly troubling remarks. His eight-year reign has coincided with ongoing revelations regarding sexual abuses perpetrated by priests and covered by their superiors, but it is not clear whether Pope Benedict XVI offered any real answers to the bitter questions posed by these revelations. And the problems involving the Vatican banking interests have left open not only questions about effective management controls but also questions about the Church’s wealth amidst a world of great poverty.

The next pope, when he occupies the seat of Peter, will find a large pile of troubling files dumped into his lap.

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