BERLIN—World political and religious leaders praised Pope Benedict XVI for bolstering interreligious ties and showing leadership to the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, hailing him as one of today’s “most significant religious thinkers.”
Plaudits and messages of respect poured in from around the globe following the shock announcement that the 85-year-old pontiff would step down this month due to old age, though victims of the Church’s abuse scandal welcomed the move from a man they said had done little to help them.
“He is and remains one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time,” Chancellor Angela Merkel, a pastor’s daughter, said in a glowing tribute in the pope’s native Germany.
US President Barack Obama offered appreciation and prayers on behalf of all Americans to Benedict, saying he and his wife, Michelle, warmly remembered meeting him in 2009.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has “always had great respect for the pope and his work on interfaith dialogue and other global challenges,” United Nations spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Benedict would be “missed as a spiritual leader to millions” who had “worked tirelessly to strengthen Britain’s relations with the Holy See.”
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano saluted the pontiff’s “courage” over his decision, making him the first pontiff in more than six centuries to step down after nearly eight years as pope.
In the mainly Catholic Philippines, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino highlighted the sympathy the pontiff expressed for Filipinos when the country was hit by deadly storms and other disasters.
And Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard praised the pope’s decision for its “humility.”
“On his election, Joseph Ratzinger said he wished to be ‘a simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord’ and in his resignation that humility has been amply demonstrated,” Gillard was quoted by Australian Associated Press (AAP) news agency as saying in a statement.
Joseph Ratzinger was the pope’s name before he was made pontiff.
From other world religions, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger told AFP that Benedict had improved ties between Judaism and Christianity which helped reduce anti-Semitism around the world.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said Benedict’s papacy had “elevated Catholic-Jewish relations onto an unprecedented level.”
“No pope before him visited as many synagogues. He met with local Jewish community representatives whenever he visited foreign nations,” he said in a written statement.
Justin Welby, who is head of the 85-million strong worldwide Anglican communion as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, said Benedict held his office with “great dignity, insight and courage.”
During his historic 2010 visit to Britain, the pope proved “a witness to the universal scope of the gospel and a messenger of hope at a time when Christian faith is being called into question,” said Welby.
Bishops in Spain—a country the pope visited three times—said they felt “orphaned” by his resignation, adding they had felt “secure and enlightened by his rich teaching and his paternal closeness,” in a statement from the head of Spain’s Catholic Church.
From Serbia to Mexico, the US and Uganda, leading religious figures expressed similar sentiments praising the pontiff’s competence and leadership.
A ‘more quiet’ style
In Uganda, Joseph Kazibwe Ntuwa, the chancellor of Kampala archdiocese, commented that Benedict had had a different, “more quiet” style of leadership than his predecessor John Paul II.
Benedict’s leadership on core issues such as abortion and contraception had met with approval from Africa’s traditionally more conservative Catholics, he added.
But groups representing victims of child abuse in Catholic-run institutions welcomed the resignation.
“This pope had a great opportunity to finally address the decades of abuse in the Church but at the end of the day he did nothing but promise everything and in the end he ultimately delivered nothing,” John Kelly, of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse support group, told AFP.
In Australia, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement saying the pontiff had done little to stop “the reign of terror of child rapist priests,” according to AAP.
The US branch of SNAP said the pope “still has two weeks” to take action against child sex abuse by Church staff.
“Before he steps down, we hope he will show true leadership and compassion and take tangible action to safeguard vulnerable children,” the group said in a statement.
Pope Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in 1927 in the predominantly Catholic southern German region of Bavaria, whose state premier Horst Seehofer said the decision deserved the “greatest respect even though I personally deeply regret it.”