Pope Benedict XVI: His best of the worst

On the sexual abuse scandal, gay marriage, women's rights, abortion and HIV/AIDS -- all in his own words

Published February 12, 2013 2:12PM (EST)

                 (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-853726p1.html'>Jeffrey Bruno</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Jeffrey Bruno via Shutterstock)

Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic Church on Monday when he announced his resignation, the first pope to do so in more than 600 years. An uncompromising conservative on social and theological issues who drove many from the church with his orthodoxy, he won't be missed.

The pope, in his own words:

On the church's sexual abuse scandal

The pope refused to open Vatican records to outside scrutiny and took little to no action against his bishops and cardinals involved in participating in and covering up decades of sexual abuse in the church. And, in an interview given before he assumed the papacy, then Cardinal Ratzinger argued that the public outrage over the sexual abuse scandal was really just an American plot to undermine the church:

"In the Church, priests also are sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower ... In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information nor to the statistical objectivity of the facts."

On gay marriage

It is not news that the leadership of the Catholic Church is woefully behind the times on gay marriage and the rights of gays and lesbians more generally. What seems a little over the top is the pope's decision to decry gay marriage as the end of humanity on the 2013 World Day of Peace:

"There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union. Such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.These principles are not truths of faith, nor are they simply a corollary of the right to religious freedom. They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church’s efforts to promote them are not therefore confessional in character, but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation. Efforts of this kind are all the more necessary the more these principles are denied or misunderstood, since this constitutes an offence against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace."

On relativism (which, you know, in some circles is just called not being Catholic)

You say dictatorship of relativism, I say diversity of beliefs. Let's call the whole thing off!

"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires ... The church needs to withstand the tides of trends and the latest novelties .... We must become mature in this adult faith, we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith."

On Judaism (relativism!)

The pope reformulated a Good Friday prayer for Jewish people, generously removing language about the "blindness" of their faith but keeping a call for their conversion. He also caused quite a bit of controversy by reversing the excommunication of four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X. Among them? Bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier who has been prosecuted in Germany.

The line from the Good Friday prayer:

"Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men."

On Islam (see above)

The pope used a rather nasty historical citation about the Prophet Mohammed and provocatively asked if Islam was inherently prone to violence in a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Quoting from the 7th of the 26 "Dialogues Held With A Certain Persian, the Worthy Mouterizes, in Anakara of Galatia," he asked:

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

On feminism, the American nuns of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby

OK, so this isn't a direct quote from the pope. Instead, it is a quote from the Vatican-appointed doctrinal assessment of the actions of a group of American nuns who were spending too much time ministering to the hungry in their communities and supporting fair access to healthcare and not enough time shaming gay people or trying to deny women their constitutionally protected right to an abortion (emphasis mine):

"The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR... The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching."


In an interview in 2009, the pope said that HIV/AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems." Adding:

"It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality."

On "seamless garment" Catholics

Why doesn't the church put as much weight behind ending the death penalty in the United States or working to stop wars that cost thousands of lives every year as it does pontificating on medical procedures like abortion and end of life care decisions like assisted suicide? Well, it's because they are wildly inconsistent on the "value of life." In a 2004 treatise called "Worthiness to receive Holy Communion -- General Principles" then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion, even among Catholics, about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not, however, with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Abortion Contraception Pope Benedict Xvi Religion Roman Catholicism Women's Rights