ROME – All across the world, political and religious leaders, as well as activists and former colleagues and friends, are remembering the life and legacy of the late Pope Benedict XVI, hailed as one of the greatest minds and most influential figures of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Though many continue to take issue with some of Benedict’s policies on issues of morality and doctrine, and critics still question his record on fighting clerical sexual abuse, by and large the world has remembered the late pontiff as someone deeply in love with God, whose writings will continue to be developed for years to come.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed the world’s first German pope as a “special church leader for many, not just this country,” saying the world “has lost a formative figure of the Catholic Church, an argumentative personality, and a clever theologian.”

Speaking to Crux, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay and a top advisor to Pope Francis, said Benedict XVI had been a personal friend, and his death signaled “a very big loss” not only for the global church but “a loss specifically for the Asian Churches because he had been, for the Church in Asia, a big support.”

“I was very close to him…Even in the time I was not well myself he was constantly in touch with me continuously sending messages to me assuring me of his prayers. He was a warm personal friend,” Gracias said, saying Benedict through his papacy “completed what Pope John Paul II had sown and thought.”

“He was one of the greatest theologians of our times. History will judge him very, very favorably as someone who has contributed to the progress of theology. I’m amazed at the variety of subjects that he spoke on and his depth of understanding of the scriptures,” he said, and also praised Benedict’s reflections on the liturgy.

Remembered as a leader

Though Benedict’s time as an emeritus pope spanned longer than his actual 8-year papacy, he was praised throughout the political world by politicians and heads of state who recognized not only his theological contributions, but also his role as a statesman, despite the media criticism he endured.

In Costa Rica, a majority Catholic nation, President Rodrigo Chaves Robles has declared four days of national mourning to mark Benedict’s passing.

United States President Joe Biden recalled having met Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2011, saying he and First Lady Jill Biden “will always remember his generosity and hospitality, as well as our important conversation.”

King Charles of the United Kingdom voiced “deep sadness” at the news of Benedict’s death, recalling the late pontiff’s visit to the UK in 2010 and praising Benedict’s “constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Benedict as “an eminent religious and state figure, a convinced defender of traditional Christian values. I will forever keep radiant memories of him. Benedict was similarly praised by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill as a defender “of traditional values.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said Benedict “set a strong signal through his resignation,” and saw himself “first as a servant for God and his Church. Once his physical strength waned, he continued to serve through the power of his prayers.”

Other statements made by leaders including Italian politician and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi; French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne; Italian President Sergio Matarella and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who called him “a giant of faith and reason” and “a man in love with the Lord who put his life at the service of the universal church.”

He was also remembered by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, who said “the world is crying” with his passing.

Other faith leaders also conveyed their sorrow and remembrances, with World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder calling Benedict XVI “a towering figure” who as both cardinal and pope “gave the Catholic-Jewish relationship solid theological underpinning and enhanced understanding.”

“No pope before him visited as many synagogues, and he made a point of meeting with local Jewish community representatives whenever he visited foreign nations,” Lauder said.

“It is in large part by building on the foundation laid by Pope Benedict that Pope Francis has strengthened the friendship and bond between Jews and Catholics and fostered the closeness and warmth that prevails today,” he said.

Similarly, the Buddhist Union of Italy hailed Benedict as “a man of profound theological thought and research, attentive to interreligious dialogue.”

“His stature as a fine scholar matched his meekness. His renunciation of the papal throne was a gesture that affected the whole world and the community of believers in any faith,” they said.

The Islamic Religious Community in Rome also conveyed their sympathies and praised Benedict’s “theological stature,” which they said, “gave occasion for an intellectual debate between Christians and the Islamic world.”

“Let us pray that his yearning for truth can finally meet his Lord in great peace,” they said.

No mention was made of the infamous Regensburg address in 2006, which sparked protests throughout the Islamic world over a quotation of a Byzantine emperor who linked Muhammad with violence.

Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado of Vasai, India, who worked in Rome for 15 years as an official of the Roman Curia, said he got to know then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger very well and was impressed, “as his black cassock was very simple, [and] he smiled at everyone passing by the street.”

“I always felt humble before a man of such deep love for God, so astute intelligence and such humility and simplicity of life…I pray for him,” Machado said, saying Benedict XVI “made history by stepping down when many popes could not do it, as it needed courage to take that step.”

Criticism of Benedict’s stance on morality

Despite the praise heaped upon Benedict by political and religious leaders alike, his death has also given fresh voice to critics who question his record on the clerical sexual abuse crisis and say his stance on issues such as homosexuality have caused great harm to individuals and families.

Anne Barret Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, said Benedict XVI sadly will be remembered “for his failure to achieve what should have been his job one: to rectify the incalculable harm done to the hundreds of thousands of children sexually abused by Catholic priests.”

“When he resigned as Pope, he left hundreds of culpable bishops in power and a culture of secrecy intact,” she said.

Doyle argued that in fairness, Benedict had achieved some significant steps, such as his decision to consolidate all clerical sex abuse cases within the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), which she said, “appears to have streamlined the process of disciplining errant priests and led to a significant increase in laicizations of abusive priests, especially when Benedict became pope.”

She also applauded his decision to sanction prominent Mexican priest Father Marcial Maciel, the influential founder of the Legionaries of Christ, but said that by the time Maciel’s ministry was finally restricted, “many of his victims had come forward, and the evidence against him was not only overwhelming but public.”

Citing what she said was a slowness in acting and in defrocking known abuser priests at the beginning, Doyle argued that Benedict “ended up hurting the faith he cherished. If he had punished the cover-up of child molestation as sternly as he did doctrinal violations, he could have ended the sex abuse crisis.”

Similarly, a statement from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) argued that Benedict was “more concerned about the church’s deteriorating image and financial flow to the hierarchy versus grasping the concept of true apologies followed by true amends to victims of abuse.”

“Benedict’s legacy as pope was already tainted by the global deluge of the sex abuse scandal in 2010, even though as a cardinal, he was responsible for changing the Vatican’s stance on the issue,” they said, saying any celebration of “abuse enablers like Benedict must end.”

Benedict’s record on engagement with the LGBTQ community was also challenged, with Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, saying Benedict’s passing “marks what is, hopefully, the end of a long, painful era for LGBTQIA+ Catholics, our families, and the entire church.”

While insisting that all death is a sad occasion and voicing sorrow to those close to the late pontiff, Duddy-Burke said that as head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger “caused tremendous damage to LGBTQIA+ people and our loved ones.”

She pointed to his 1986 letter, “On the pastoral care of homosexual persons,” which she said labeled homosexual orientation as “objectively disordered” and painted same-sex relationships as being “intrinsically evil” and “essentially self-indulgent.”

“Benedict XVI was among the most vocal and powerful global leaders who objected to marriage equality and gay and lesbian people raising children, causing immense damage worldwide,” Duddy-Burke said.

Echoing Duddy-Burke’s comments was Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who in a statement also criticized Benedict’s 1986 letter, which he said caused “grave pastoral harm to many LGBTQ+ people and to Catholics who see the goodness, holiness, and God-given love in the relationships of queer couples.”

He recalled a chance 1998 encounter on a flight from Rome to Munich between then-Cardinal Ratzinger and Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, while Gramick was being investigated by the DDF.

In the statement, DeBernardo said Gramick had described the conversation “as experiencing the Cardinal’s humanity: warm and friendly, gentle, humorous, and personable.”

“While disagreeing with his views on homosexuality, she sensed he was of a man of deep faith and deeply committed to the Church in the service of God’s people,” he said, noting that, as Gramick told it, she at one point asked Ratzinger if he had ever met with gay or lesbian people.

When Ratzinger answered that he had once seen a gay rights march in Berlin, Gramick, he said, “was saddened because his response indicated that he had not had a personal relationship with lesbian and gay people; his image of them was as protestors, not as the full, loving, and faith-filled human beings whom she had come to know.”

Remembered by fellow bishops

Despite the criticism of certain aspects of Benedict’s legacy, his death prompted an outpouring of support and praise from bishops, archbishops, and fellow cardinals throughout the world recalled their late shepherd with affection and admiration.

Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo told Crux that for him, Benedict XVI was “a gentle old man like everyone’s grandfather.”

“His strictness was emphasized at the time when he was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before he became pope, which left a strong impression of him as a stubborn and strict pope, but when I actually met him, he was a gentle old pastor full of kindness,” Kikuchi said, and pointed to the emphasis Benedict placed on the importance of charity.

“He was a pope of love (caritas) filled with kindness. I am quite sure, in future time, Pope Benedict would be remembered as Pope of Caritas,” he said.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limbourg and president of the German bishops conference praised Benedict as “a great theologian, a convincing priest and bishop, a witness of faith, hope and love, and a personality whose word found attention worldwide.”

“Today is a day of mourning and farewell, but for me interiorly it is even more a day of gratitude and respect for a great man of the Church,” he said, calling Benedict “a brilliant theologian” who like few others “tried hard to make the faith clear to the people.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising and a top advisor to Pope Francis, hailed Benedict XVI as “a great pope who exercised his pastoral office with frankness and great faith.”

“As a theologian he shaped the Church for a long time in a lasting way (but he) always remained humble and always put his role in the foreground and not his person,” Marx said, voicing gratitude for Benedict’s “excellent theology and impressive testimony of life and of faith. His legacy will continue to have effects.”

American Cardinal Roger Mahoney also commented on his relationship with the late pope, calling him “a grand gift from God to the Church” who created “a tapestry of holiness, wisdom, compassion, and integrity.”

“His writings, addresses, homilies, and reflections remain with us as a treasure yet to be fully opened,” Mahoney said, saying Benedict “knew how to take a theological issue and treat it in a very pastoral manner.”

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, head of the Italian Bishops’ conference, recalled how Benedict XVI had always insisted that “life is not a circle that closes, but a line that tends towards its fullness.”

“We thank the Lord for the gift of his thought, of the clarity of his faith, of the simplicity with which he has always lived and with which he has communicated the depths of the mystery of God,” Zuppi said.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, hailed as the Vatican’s top prosecutor on clerical abuse, called Benedict “a great and wise man of the church” who dedicated his life to teaching and study.

“In his great humility and wisdom, he was a great servant of the people of God,” whose mind and heart Scicluna said were “opened up to the great horizons of the Catholic world and to the people of God around the world” by his experience with the Second Vatican Council.

Benedict XVI “was an accessible person, quite modest in his traits, but of extraordinary depth in his teaching,” he said, saying the Maltese people would remember his visit to Malta in 2010 as “a pilgrim of reconciliation at a difficult time for the church around the world.”

Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Pakistan, told Crux that Benedict XVI was “a great man and theologian” who upheld the church’s teaching and traditions, and who “led a simple, honest and faithful life.”

“He loved Christ and His church till death. He was closely praying for the whole church and also for us in Pakistan,” Arshad said, saying Benedict “left a great mark in the history of church always kept on building the bridges and untiringly work for the peace and harmony in this world.”

Benedict also received praise from Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, who said the late pontiff made the faith “deep and luminous” for believers and who “warned us against a deadly disease of our time: the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ which feeds on contradictory voices, preventing us from finding the ultimate meaning of life.”

Benedict, he said, also “pointed out to us the medicine to heal it: the ‘splendor of truth,’ which can be sought with difficulty, but cannot be denied, without our life falling into meaninglessness and sadness.”

“Behind the vigor and rigor of the thinker, a warm humanity vibrated which was expressed in the discretion and delicacy with which he allowed himself to relate to everyone,” he said.

Canadian Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto voiced gratitude for Benedict’s “years of faithful, thoughtful and inspiring service to the Church,” saying he gave the church “profound insight” into the faith with his “astonishing intellect and learning,” as well as his personal holiness.

“He led the universal church with wisdom and holiness, providing a clear and loving message of how our faith can inspire us and guide us through the storms of life’s journey,” Collins said, saying, “More than ever, his own witness, humility and invitation to put others before ourselves should resonate throughout the world.”

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, Lithuania and president of the Council of European Bishops Conferences (CCEE) noted how Benedict throughout his papacy underlined “the importance of Europe’s Christian roots” and highlighted the need to return “to Christ and to the evangelization for the construction of a civilization of love.”

The bishops of Europe, he said, “will continue to develop the European Magisterium of Benedict XVI, in the certainty that only Christ is the hope for a Europe in conflict.”

Father D. Vincent Twomey, a former doctoral student and longtime friend of Joseph Ratzinger as well as a Professor Emeritus of theology at St Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland, said Benedict XVI will be remembered “above all for his literary and scholarly output.”

“His writings on a vast spectrum of theological and philosophical topics have a clarity and a depth that make his theology inspiring and therefore liberating,” saying future generations will continue to draw inspiration from his writings.

“It will come as no surprise to me, if in the future, he will be declared a Doctor of the Church,” he said.

Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this report. Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen