Benedict's legacy: A teacher pope who sought to bring church back to conservative roots
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- On Monday, April 4, 2005, a priest walked up to the Renaissance palazzo housing the Vatican's doctrine department and asked the doorman to call the official in charge: It was the first day of business after Pope John Paul II had died, and the cleric wanted to get back to work.
The office's No. 2, Archbishop Angelo Amato, answered the phone and was stunned. This was no ordinary priest. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his boss, who under the Vatican's arcane rules had technically lost his job when John Paul died.
"It tells me of the great humility of the man, the great sense of duty, but also the great awareness that we are here to do a job," said Bishop Charles Scicluna, who worked with Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In resigning, Scicluna said, Benedict is showing the same sense of humility, duty and service as he did after the Catholic Church lost its last pope.
"He has done his job."
Pope recalls moments of 'joy and light' -- but also difficulties in emotional final audience
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI bid an emotional farewell Wednesday on the eve of his retirement, recalling moments of "joy and light" during his papacy, but also times of difficulty when "it seemed like the Lord was sleeping."
Some 150,000 people, many waving banners proclaiming "Grazie!" flooded St. Peter's Square, eager to bear witness to the final hours of a papacy that will go down in history as the first in 600 years to end in resignation rather than death.
Benedict basked in the emotional send-off, taking a long victory lap around the square in an open-sided car, and stopping to kiss and bless half a dozen babies. Seventy cardinals, some tearful, sat in solemn attendance -- and gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Benedict then made a quick exit, forgoing the meet-and-greet session that typically follows his weekly general audience, as if to not prolong the goodbye.
Given the weight of the moment, Benedict also replaced his usual Wednesday catechism lesson with a heartfelt final address, explaining once again why he was retiring and assuring his flock of 1.2 billion that he was not abandoning them.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. HOW THE POPE WILL BE REMEMBERED
Benedict XVI tried to set Catholicism back on a conservative path, believing that reforms of recent decades weren't in keeping with the church's teachings.
Fighting tears, father of Newtown victim asks Senate committee to ban assault weapons
WASHINGTON (AP) -- After weeks of arguing constitutional fine points and citing rival statistics, senators wrangling over gun control saw and heard the anguish of a bereft father.
Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was among those cut down at a Connecticut elementary school in December, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to ban assault weapons like the one that killed his child.
"I'm not here for the sympathy or the pat on the back," Heslin, a 50-year-old construction worker, told the senators, weeping openly during much of his hushed 11-minute testimony. "I'm here to speak up for my son."
At his side were photos: of his son as a baby, of them both taken on Father's Day, six months before Jesse was among 20 first-graders and six administrators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That massacre has hoisted gun control to a primary political issue this year, though the outcome remains uncertain.
The hearing's focus was legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds. A Bushmaster assault weapon was used at Newtown by the attacker, Adam Lanza, whose body was found with 30-round magazines.
Days numbered for key part of voting rights law? Conservative justices skeptical of need
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court's conservative justices voiced deep skepticism Wednesday about a section of a landmark civil rights law that has helped millions of Americans exercise their right to vote.
In an ominous note for supporters of the key provision of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy both acknowledged the measure's vital role in fighting discrimination and suggested that other important laws in U.S. history had run their course. "Times change," Kennedy said during the fast-paced, 70-minute argument.
Kennedy's views are likely to prevail on the closely divided court, and he tends to side with his more conservative colleagues on matters of race.
The court's liberals and conservatives engaged in a sometimes tense back-and-forth over whether there is an ongoing need in 2013 for the part of the voting rights law that requires states with a history of discrimination, mainly in the Deep South, to get approval before making changes in the way elections are held.
Justice Antonin Scalia called the law a "perpetuation of racial entitlement."
Senate confirms President Barack Obama's nomination of Jacob Lew for Treasury secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Jacob Lew to be Treasury secretary, affirming President Barack Obama's choice of a budget expert at a time when Congress and the White House are at odds over sharp government spending cuts.
The vote was 71 to 26 to support the nomination. A total of 25 Republicans and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont voted against Lew's confirmation.
Lew, 57, had most recently served as Obama's chief of staff. He succeeds Timothy Geithner, who completed a tumultuous four-year term in which he helped lead the administration's response to the financial crisis and recession.
Lew is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday. He will take over just one day before automatic spending cuts are set to take effect. He's likely to take part in any negotiations to reverse the cuts, and also in key budget talks next month to continue funding the government.
Lew began his government service in the 1980s as an aide to House Speaker Tip O'Neill. He brings nearly three decades of government service to the job, including two stints as White House budget director.
With budget cuts imminent, Congress turning to avoiding government shutdown in less than month
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With big, automatic budget cuts about to kick in, House Republicans are turning to mapping strategy for the next showdown just a month away, when a government shutdown instead of just a slowdown will be at stake.
Both topics are sure to come up at the White House meeting Friday between President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner. A breakthrough on replacing or easing the imminent across-the-board spending cuts still seems unlikely at the first face-to-face discussion between Obama and Republican leaders this year.
To no one's surprise, even as a dysfunctional Washington appears incapable of averting a crisis over economy-rattling spending cuts, it may be lurching toward another over a possible shutdown.
Republicans are planning for a vote next week on a bill to fund the day-to-day operations of the government through the Sept. 30 end of the 2013 fiscal year -- while keeping in place the new $85 billion in cuts of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 8 percent to the military.
The need to keep the government's doors open and lights on -- or else suffer the first government shutdown since 1996 -- requires the GOP-dominated House and the Democratic-controlled Senate to agree. Right now they hardly see eye to eye.
Colo. transgender girl can't use girls' bathroom at school; parents file complaint with state
FOUNTAIN, Colo. (AP) -- At first, Jeremy and Kathryn Mathis didn't think much of their son's behavior. Coy took his sister's pink blanket, and shunned the car they gave him for Christmas.
Then, Coy told them he only wanted to wear girls' clothes. At school, he became upset when his teacher insisted he line up with the boys. All the while, he was becoming depressed and withdrawn, telling his parents at one point he wanted to get "fixed" by doctors.
When the Mathises learned he had gender identity disorder -- a condition in which someone identifies as the opposite gender -- they decided to help Coy live as a girl. And suddenly, she came out of her shell.
"We could force her to be somebody she wasn't, but it would end up being more damaging to her emotionally and to us because we would lose the relationship with her," Kathryn Mathis said. "She was discussing things like surgery and things like that before and she's not now, so obviously we've done something positive."
Now, her family is locked in a legal battle with the school district in Fountain, a town 82 miles south of Denver, over where Coy, 6, should go to use the bathroom -- the girls' or, as school officials suggest, one in the teachers' lounge or another in the nurse's office. Her parents say using anything other than the girls' bathroom could stigmatize her, and open her up to bullying.
Can this marriage survive? Tycoon proposes to send couple on 16-month flight to Mars and back
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's a road trip that could test the best of marriages: Mars.
A tycoon announced plans Wednesday to send a middle-aged couple on a privately built spaceship to slingshot around the red planet and come back home, hopefully with their bodies and marriage in one piece after 501 days of no-escape togetherness in a cramped capsule half the size of an RV.
Under the audacious but bare-bones plan, the spacecraft would blast off less than five years from now and pass within 100 miles of the Martian surface. The cost was not disclosed, but outsiders put it at more than $1 billion.
The team of space veterans behind the project hasn't quite figured out the technical details of the rocket they will use or the capsule the husband-and-wife astronauts will live in during the 16-month voyage. But they know it will be an adventure not for the weak of body or heart.
"This is not going to be an easy mission," chief technical officer and potential crew member Taber MacCallum said. "We called it the Lewis and Clark trip to Mars."
Obama unveils Rosa Parks statue; first full-length statue of black woman in Capitol
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's most powerful politicians honored Rosa Parks on Wednesday by unveiling her statue in a permanent place in the U.S. Capitol. President Barack Obama praised Parks as an enduring reminder of what true leadership requires, "no matter how humble or lofty our positions."
Parks became the first black woman to be depicted in a full-length statue in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. A bust of another black woman, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, sits in the Capitol Visitors Center.
"We do well by placing a statue of her here," Obama said. "But we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction."
The unveiling brought Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders together in the midst of a fierce standoff over automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on Friday.
Setting that conflict aside, Obama and Boehner stood on either side of a blue drape, tugging and pulling in opposite directions on a braided cord until the cover fell to reveal a 2,700-pound bronze statue of a seated Parks, her hair in a bun under a hat, her hands crossed over her lap and clasping her purse. Obama gazed up at it, and touched its arm.