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Published February 14 2013

Forum editorial: A defender of the faith bows out

The stunning resignation of Pope Benedict XVI precipitated a 24/7 storm of analyses, criticism and even balanced reporting. Overshadowed by the priest sex scandal of the past decade, the pope’s decision to step aside made headlines, but seldom without the footnote of the scandal.

Whether Benedict acted forcefully enough or quickly enough to address the sex scandal will be

for history to judge. What is clear, however, is that the pope’s eight years on the Throne of Peter continued a process began by Pope John Paul II to either reverse or blunt the reforms of Vatican II, the conclave that liberalized the church and (some say) brought it into the 20th century. John Paul and Benedict, among the last of the church’s major clerics to participate in Vatican II, will be remembered for returning the largest Christian denomination on the planet to its traditional ancient and conservative practices and doctrines.

One need not be a Catholic to appreciate the intellectual rigor Benedict brought to the church. A scholar and author, his writings and encyclicals focused unapologetically on the core of Catholic belief, often raising the ire and frustration of Western world Catholics, many of whom have rejected or otherwise ignored the church’s basic teaching. He clashed with the culture over the role of women in the church, priestly celibacy, birth control and what he called the cults of consumerism and capitalism.

He did not bend. He did not compromise. Rather, Benedict extended the work of John Paul by installing in key leadership posts cardinals and bishops who cleave without question to papal doctrinal mandates.

Benedict’s resignation was historic – the first time a pope has stepped down in 600 years. But that decision also confirmed his wisdom. Restoring, protecting and extending the faith as he saw it is very hard work in the modern era. He knew he no longer was up to it.

Again, one need not be a Catholic or a Catholic who sees the church differently than Benedict did to appreciate the pope’s unwavering commitment to his faith. By that standard, he’s done his work well.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.