Pope legacy: Teacher who returned to church roots


On Monday, April 4, 2005, a priest walked up to the Renaissance palazzo housing the Vatican's doctrine department and asked the doorman to call the official in charge: It was the first day of business after Pope John Paul II had died, and the cleric wanted to get back to work.

The office's No. 2, Archbishop Angelo Amato, answered the phone and was stunned. This was no ordinary priest. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his boss, who under the Vatican's arcane rules had technically lost his job when John Paul died.

``It tells me of the great humility of the man, the great sense of duty, but also the great awareness that we are here to do a job,'' said Bishop Charles Scicluna, who worked with Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In resigning, Scicluna said, Benedict is showing the same sense of humility, duty and service as he did after the Catholic Church lost its last pope.

``He has done his job.''

When Benedict flies off into retirement by helicopter on Thursday, he will leave behind a church in crisis one beset by sex scandal, internal divisions and dwindling numbers.

But the 85-year-old pope can count on a solid legacy: While his very resignation was his most significant act, Benedict _ in a quieter way _ also set the church back on a conservative, tradition-minded path.

He was guided by the firm conviction that many of the ills afflicting the church could be traced to a misreading of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

He insisted that the 1962-65 meetings that brought the church into the modern era were not a radical break from the past, as portrayed by many liberals, but rather a continuation of the best traditions of the 2,000-year-old church.

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