NEW YORK —
VATICAN CHANGEOVER: Pope Benedict XVI stunned Catholics around the world with his announcement in February that he would resign. The cardinal elected to succeed him, soon known as Pope Francis, proceeded to captivate many Catholics and non-Catholics alike with a new tone of openness, modesty and tolerance. Without challenging core church doctrine, he suggested it was time to rethink policy on divorce, focus more on serving the poor, and devote less rhetoric to condemnations of gay marriage and abortion.
DIVIDED CONGRESS: Opinion polls showed Congress with historically low approval ratings, and the key reason was seemingly intractable partisan conflict. Among the consequences were the harsh automatic spending curbs known as sequestration, the partial shutdown of the government in October, and bitterness in Senate after the Democrats used their majority to reduce the Republicans’ ability to stall presidential nominations via filibusters.
NSA SPYING: The ripple effect continues, seven months after the world learned of Edward Snowden. The former NSA analyst leaked vast troves of secret documents detailing NSA surveillance operations, including programs that collected Americans’ phone records and eavesdropped on allied leaders. After a stay in Hong Kong, Snowden spent a month in Moscow’s airport before obtaining asylum in Russia. The leaks have roiled diplomacy, triggered lawsuits and calls for reform, and prompted warnings that terrorists could benefit from the disclosures.
GAY MARRIAGE: Capping decades of activism, the gay-rights movement won a monumental victory in June in the form of two Supreme Court decisions. One cleared the way for ending a ban on same-sex marriages in California, the most populous state. The other struck down a 1996 law passed by Congress that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. In subsequent months, Hawaii, Illinois and New Mexico boosted the number of states allowing gay marriage to 17.
NELSON MANDELA: A freedom fighter, a political prisoner, a statesman revered for preaching reconciliation in a nation torn by racial strife. Nelson Mandela was all that and more — the icon of the anti-apartheid movement and South Africa’s first black president. With his death at the age of 95, his compatriots, world leaders and countless other admirers mourned the loss of a one-of-a-kind hero.