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Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his resignation Monday after eight years as head of the Roman Catholic Church, will leave a legacy of strong theology, cooperation with evangelicals and a hardline conservative stance on social issues, evangelical leaders and observers say.

As pope, the German Joseph Ratzinger championed a "culture of life" on issues such as abortion, encouraged the "new evangelism" of the church, and issued the first papal tweet. Benedict, 85, cited age and deteriorating strength as reasons for his resignation.

Benedict stepped into a difficult role as an intellectual and administrator following John Paul II, the first "celebrity pope," said Carl Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary.

"He was never going to be comfortable with the kind of media exposure his predecessor courted and relished," Trueman said. "Add to that the various pressing problems facing the Roman Catholic Church — the priest abuse scandal, the challenges of feminism, Islam, rising secularism — and he took the reins at a very trying time."

In some ways, Benedict's resignation, the first in nearly 600 years, sends the most important message of his papacy, said Chris Castaldo, a director at the Billy Graham Center and author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic. Vatican I emphasized the divine character of the papal office and made it seem distant from average people. This resignation highlights the leader's humanity, Castaldo said.

"He's expressing vulnerability in such a way that others will be able to identify with," he said. "There's a temptation for all of us — Protestants, ...

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