Year in Review: Pope faced tough challenges inside and outside the church

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI will look back on 2010 as a challenging year for the priesthood and a time of trial for Christian minorities.

Those two issues stood out among the many papal concerns and activities over the past 12 months, which saw the 83-year-old pontiff make five foreign trips, issue documents on the Bible and new evangelization, and speak out on a wide range of topics in a book-length interview.

The revelations of clerical sex abuse, particularly in Ireland, Belgium and Germany, weighed on the pope throughout the year. In a letter to the Irish faithful in March, he personally apologized to victims of such abuse and announced new steps to heal the wounds of the scandal, including a Vatican investigation and a year of penitential reparation.

Later in the year, the pope met with victims of abuse in Malta and Great Britain, and spoke repeatedly about the need to treat the problem with more transparency. He codified stronger Vatican measures to deal with abusive priests, some of which he had instigated years earlier as a cardinal.

Closing the Year for Priests in June, the pope said the abuse revelations were a “summons to purification” of the priesthood. Yet he insisted on the church’s continued need for ordained priests, saying their ministry was irreplaceable, and strongly defended priestly celibacy as the norm in the Western church.

Throughout the year, Pope Benedict devoted increasing attention to the fate of Christian minorities in the Middle East and Asia. He convened a two-week Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in October, and made a trip to Cyprus in June to underline his concern for church communities in the region.

Attacks on church targets in Iraq brought papal appeals to the international community and to the Iraqi government, in particular after a bomb attack on a Baghdad church at the end of October left more than 50 people dead.

The pope and his aides also spoke frequently on the need to defend Christian minorities from discrimination and physical attacks in places such as India, Pakistan and Indonesia. He elaborated on the theme of religious freedom in his 2011 World Peace Day message, released Dec. 15, saying that in today’s world, Christians suffer more from persecution than any other religious group.

In addition to Cyprus, the pope’s travels in 2010 took him to Portugal, Spain, Malta and Great Britain. In Britain, where the pope beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian and convert from Anglicanism, his visit generated interest and reflection, along with some protests.

A common theme in all the papal visits was that the church needs to help people rediscover God’s presence in their own lives and the life of society. He warned that people in the West continued to drift away from Christianity and from belief in general.

To help counter that trend, he established in June the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, with the task of re-evangelizing in traditionally Christian countries. He announced that “new evangelization” would be the next theme of the world Synod of Bishops in 2012.

In November, the pope issued his follow-up document to the 2008 Synod on the Bible. Titled “Verbum Domini” (“The Word of the Lord”), it encouraged better use of the Bible at every level of the church.

Pope Benedict also used Scripture as a bridge in dialogue with the Jews, quoting from the Psalms and other Old Testament books during a visit in January to Rome’s main synagogue.

The pope presided over more than 50 major liturgies in 2010, including a Mass in October to proclaim six new saints. One of those canonized was St. Mary MacKillop, who educated poor children in the Australian outback in the late 19th century; she became Australia’s first saint.

The pope also named 24 new cardinals and handed them red hats during a consistory at the Vatican in November. Among them were two Americans: Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s supreme court.

One of the most difficult internal church issues on the pope’s 2010 agenda was reform of the Legionaries of Christ in the wake of revelations that the order’s founder, the late Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, had fathered children and sexually abused seminarians. After a Vatican investigation, the pope named a delegate to run the order, who predicted the reform may take several years to complete.

In November, the Vatican published a book-length interview with Pope Benedict titled, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.” It was an instant best-seller, in part because the pope fielded every question thrown at him by German journalist Peter Seewald, and spoke in unusually direct language.

The pope’s comments on condoms made headlines around the world. While continuing to insist that condoms were not the answer to the AIDS pandemic, he allowed that in particular circumstances, for example, a prostitute seeking to reduce the risk of infection, using a condom might represent a step toward moral awareness.

In the book, the pope said the church’s main mission in a broken world was to awaken consciences and bring people to an encounter with Christ, so humanity can respond to global problems that could otherwise lead to economic, environmental, biological and moral catastrophe.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.