Benedict XVI stunned the world on Monday, when he announced he would step down as head of the Catholic Church at the end of February due to his advanced age.
But as the world paid tribute to the 85-year-old pope, German commentators had little praise for his eight years as pontiff. In fact, becoming the second pope in history ever to resign may have been Benedict XVI’s biggest achievement, they said.
It was clear, many commentators agreed, that German Catholics who had hoped Benedict’s appointment in April 2005 would re-energize the Church had been let down.
Anyone who thought the German pope would bring the church badly needed modernization has been sorely disappointed in Benedict, wrote Bonn’s General Anzeiger.
“Germans were hoping for benevolence and the clemency of old age from their countryman and that deeper insights would lead to change in the Catholic Church. The country was hoping for a reformation, that Rome would align itself closer with the realities of 21st Century life. But in fact the opposite occurred. Nowhere around the world was disappointment in Benedict greater than in ‘We-are-the-Pope-land’.”
But the nation was wrong to expect change from a conservative theologian, said the Schwarzwälder Bote regional paper. Benedict’s biggest contribution to moving the Church forward was his resignation.
After all, since when can a pope step down – just like that – asked the paper. Is he not supposed to be “Christ’s representative on earth, selected by God – not a king, president or CEO. Ecumenism or renewal was never to be expected from a dogmatist. Benedict’s resignation was perhaps his biggest reform of all.”
It was always clear Benedict was never going to be a maverick, wrote the centre-left Munich daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, he did not seem to subscribe to the idea that the Church always needs reforming.
“Only with his resignation has Benedict broken the chains of tradition, everywhere else he never touched these chains, here and there he even strengthened them. The Church was seldom so in need of reform as it is at the end of Benedict’s papacy.”
The left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau went one further, suggesting that if anything, Benedict’s papacy had weakened the Church in its last remaining strongholds by focusing on missionary work elsewhere.
“The German pope had little idea of the concerns of believers in those countries where the Church still has strength, in which it is in a position to reach out to young people.”
“He leaves behind a Church which is deeply unsettled and weakened, which could be accused of not budging a millimetre on sexual morals and social liberalization.”