The church has also faced criticism over efforts to comply with international rules governing money laundering at the institution's internal bank. Earlier this year, the Vatican's financial troubles escalated to the point where international banks temporarily suspended credit card links at the Sistine Chapel, forcing tourists to use cash.
After scores of new pedophilia accusations, and cover-up allegations, surfaced in Europe in 2010, the spotlight focused on Benedict's own management of a case involving a German priest and sex offender while he was bishop of Munich in 1980. Despite promises to the victim's family that the priest would not work with children again, the priest was allowed to return to the ministry, after which he molested more children.
Accusations also surfaced that a Vatican office Benedict had headed in the 1990s failed to defrock an American priest who allegedly molested 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin.
Benedict's defenders hailed actions he took to address the scandals, including a rare official apology to Catholics in Ireland for widespread clergy sexual abuse there.
The pope's decision to step aside to make way for a new and almost surely younger pope was seen Monday as another manifestation of his fierce generosity and goodwill.
"As a Christian and as a Catholic, one can't help but be moved and touched by this," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said at a news conference in Berlin, according to Reuters. "He has left a very personal signature as a thinker at the head of the church, and also as a shepherd."
Boorstein reported from Washington. Washington Post staff writers James Arkin, Maggie Fazeli Fard and Debbi Wilgoren in Washington and Eliza Mackintosh in London contributed to this report.