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Pope Benedict XVI's 30-year campaign to reassert conservative Catholicism

Some believe Pope Benedict XVI is 'the greatest scholar to rule the church since [Pope] Innocent III," in the 13th century. Child-abuse scandals have marred his tenure.

Pope Benedict XVI (at far end, c.) led a meeting at the Vatican in February to canonize five new church saints, including the first one from Australia, a 19thcentury nun.

Osservatore Ro mano/Reuters

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In the past 30 years, the Vatican has moved strongly to reassert the authority of a traditional, even orthodox Roman Catholicism – to bring the notion of a "one true church" to Europe and then the larger world. The intent was to reverse the "open" or liberalizing trend of the church represented by Vatican II.

In the past three decades, the Vatican has cracked down on liberation theology, affirmed traditional sexual morality, and is now quietly supporting ultradevout Catholic groups such as Opus Dei and the Legions of Christ – while curbing ecumenical outreach and describing Protestant churches as not authentic.

The most constant, diligent, and serious champion of these moves is a shy but brilliant German theologian, Josef Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI.

Princeton University Renaissance scholar Anthony Grafton, not a Catholic, says Pope Benedict is "probably the greatest scholar to rule the church since [Pope] Innocent III," in the 13th century.

IN PICTURES: Pope Benedict

"There is no great issue, no direction in Catholic theology, not dominated by Ratzinger over the past three decades," says Hermann Häring, a liberal Jesuit theologian who studied with Ratzinger and has written a book about his theology.

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