Views differ on pontiff's legacy
Lay reactionIrish theologians, religious commentators and campaigners have offered a mixed response to the tenure of Pope Benedict following the announcement of his resignation.
Theologian Gina Menzies said the church found itself “at a crossroads, particularly in the western world”, as the pope’s reign came to an end.
The position of his successor on the reforms of the second Vatican Council, governance and the roles of lay people and women in the church would be crucial to guiding the future direction of catholicism, she added.
“I would like to see a less clericalised church. Even though Benedict is seen to be a well-read theologian . . . he didn’t seem to want a dialogue with theologians who asked difficult questions.”
Religious commentator and Irish Times columnist Breda O’Brien said she was not too surprised by the pope’s decision, given the fact he was aware of his age and limitations.
She said his legacy would be threefold: his books on Jesus of Nazareth, his efforts to encourage understanding between Catholics and people of other faiths, and the tackling of the sexual abuse scandals, which he had been very much “at the forefront of”.
Brendan Butler of We Are Church Ireland, a Catholic group campaigning for reform of the church, welcomed the pope’s decision.
He said Benedict’s approach was “ultra-orthodox” and his trying to restore the church “almost to a medieval” standing had alienated many .
Petra Conroy of Catholic Comment, an independent group established to provide a voice in the media to faithful Catholics, said Benedict was “a pope of many surprises”: he came with a reputation for being a “Rottweiler” and then issued the God is Love encyclical shortly after his election in 2005.
Ms Conroy said he had taken the issue of child abuse by the horns and that his 2010 pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland showed his concern for what had happened.
Christine Buckley, an abuse survivor and a director of the Aislinn Centre, said she hoped the pope’s departure would bring about positive change in the church.
“I think he lacked empathy with his flock; he was far too steeped in intellectual theology and doctrine,” she said.
Ms Buckley said she was disappointed the pope had not visited Ireland after the publication of the Murphy and Ryan reports on abuse, and by the fact the Vatican sought to silence priests such as Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Brian D’Arcy for their views on church matters.
“He was extremely dogmatic and anybody who did not agree with his thinking was immediately threatened.”