Throughout his nearly eight-year papacy, and for 25 years before that as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal officer, Pope Benedict XVI steered the Catholic Church away from the liberalizing reforms symbolized by the Vatican II conference of 1962. His strict interpretation of Catholic teachings led to a proportionally greater emphasis on the church’s opposition to birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. Meanwhile, the Vatican asserted tighter authority over church affairs, a reversal of the decentralizing trends of an earlier era.
These shifts in focus sometimes put the Vatican at odds with followers in the West; Benedict, in turn, expressed concern over the loss of faith among many Catholics in Western Europe and the United States. The Vatican’s efforts to rein in certain groups of nuns and other independent-minded religious orders left some Western Catholics feeling alienated. But when called upon to deal with clergy-abuse scandals in the United States and many European countries, Benedict went significantly further than his predecessors in acknowledging the Vatican’s failure to properly handle such allegations. His papacy has been a time of doctrinal clarity amid increasing challenges within the diverse global community of Catholics.