2005 onwards - Papacy
As Pope, Benedict XVI has - as expected - taken a strongly conservative line on many social issues, reinforcing traditional Catholic teachings on topics like birth control, homosexuality and the ordination of women. He has also continued the work he did while in charge of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in criticising more liberal interpretations of Catholic theology. But he has also continued the tradition of supporting many oppressed or marginalised groups - speaking up for refugees and immigrants, and calling for an end to the persecution of the Roma people.
Most notably, he has been forced to confront the biggest scandal to hit the Church in many years, the sexual abuse of children by some members of the clergy. While he has been accused of having once been complicit in the Church's cover-up of the extent of the scandal, as Pope he has taken a much stronger stance. Soon after being elected, he began proceedings against one especially powerful priest who had long been accused of sexual abuse - and he has expressed his sorrow over the Church's actions, apologised to victims, and pledged to put in place more safeguards to protect children.
In contrast to his previous hardline reputation as John Paul II's "enforcer", those close to him say that in person Benedict XVI is humble and mild-mannered (above, he participates in the tradition of washing priests' feet). He has, however, indulged himself in at least one way - the man who as a child admired a cardinal's red robes has brought back many traditional items of decorative papal clothing, such as red shoes and wide-brimmed red hats, that had not been used for decades.
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