Benedict's aim, like that of John Paul II, was to ensure the centre held
Pope Benedict XVI leading a Mass in the Vatican. As dean of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was John Paul II's doctrinal enforcer. photograph: stefano rellandini/reuters
Analysis:The pope became known as “God’s Rottweiler” with good reason
And thus endeth the longest papacy in history. With a surprise. It featured two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and began in October 1978, over 34 years ago.
This papacy of two men was united around one aim – ensuring that the centre held. It was about ending what some would describe as confusion following the Second Vatican Council, sustained through the uncertain papacy of Pope Paul VI. It ended in 1978.
John Paul II was the communicator, the people person, the front-of-house man who sold restriction and orthodoxy with empathy and charm.
As dean of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) from 1981 to 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the enforcer.
He supplied much of the intellectual clarity that underlined the theological orthodoxy which very soon became a major feature of John Paul’s papacy.
Ratzinger brooked no dissent, whatever its source. It extended even to former colleagues such as Hans Küng.
In 1966, at Küng’s instigation, the Catholic faculty at Germany’s Tübingen university appointed the then Fr Ratzinger professor of dogmatics.
In 1979, Küng was stripped of his licence to teach because he challenged the dogma of papal infallibility.
In 1981, when Ratzinger became dean of the CDF, he upheld that decision.
In 1986 he stopped US priest Fr Charles Curran from teaching because of his views on sexuality and ethics. A Brazilian, Fr Leonardo Boff, was silenced twice by him, in 1985 and in 1991 because of his “liberation theology”.
In 1986 Ratzinger denounced homosexuality as a “strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”.
In 1995, Sri Lankan theologian Fr Tissa Belasuriya was excommunicated by him over writings on Mary, original sin and the divinity of Christ. And there were those five Irish priests silenced last year.
In his infamous Dominus Iesus document of 2000, Ratzinger dismissed all reformed churches as not churches “in the proper sense”. They were merely “ecclesial communities”.
Other faiths were “gravely deficient”.
In 1997 he described Buddhism as an “auto-erotic spirituality”. Hinduism was based, he said, on a concept of reincarnation resembling “a continuous circle of hell”.
In a 2004 document he denounced “radical feminism” sternly as an ideology that undermined the family and obscured the natural differences between men and women.
And he made suggestions that the banning of women from the priesthood could be a dogma of the church.
It was for such reasons he became known as “God’s Rottweiler”.
So he had “form”, as the saying goes, when elected pope in April 2005. It was why his election was greeted with less than enthusiasm by liberal elements in the church.
His papacy, however, has not been as grim as they expected.
He made unsurprising overtures to the Pius X Society which does not recognise the Second Vatican Council, and in the process annoyed many Jews when it emerged that Bishop Richard Williamson of the Pius X Society was a Holocaust denier.
As unsurprising was his decision to allow the Latin Mass be celebrated again.
It was not a papacy of surprises, until yesterday. It was a quiet papacy, that of an old man.
His public persona as pope was that of a shy, retiring, gentle man who showed every indication that he would much prefer the solitude of a library somewhere. As for “doing pope”, he was not to the manner born.
Yet his trips abroad were successes. An example was Turkey in 2006. It could have been a disaster after his maladroit Regensburg address in Germany that September where he quoted a medieval emperor on the evils of Islam.
Even the night prior to his arrival in Ankara on November 28th that year it was not known whether Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be there to meet him. He was, and Benedict later won all his hosts over by praying at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque as a Muslim would.
His trip to the UK in 2010 was preceded by an outbreak of anti-Catholicism which many had thought dead there.
Following a slow start in Scotland, it was something of a triumph marked by two highlights – his remarkable address on religion in society at Westminster Hall on September 17th that year and his homily at the beatification Mass of John Henry Newman at Crofton Part near Birmingham on September 19th.
In the latter he recalled “with shame and horror” the bombing of Coventry.
Such words, uttered by a German in heavily accented English, gave the sentiment great force.
As in other instances the British people were surprised to discover that, in place of the ferocious “Panzer pope” they expected, they were presented with an elderly, smiling, public man.
But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, nothing in his papacy became him like the leaving it .
Of his almost seven years as pope, his resignation is probably what his papacy will be most remembered for.