“With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican,” the Vatican announced.
It added that “the body of the Pope Emeritus will be in Saint Peter’s Basilica so the faithful can bid farewell” from Monday, January 2.
Pope Francis is due to lead the service for his predecessor on St. Peter’s Square on Thursday.
World reacts to former pope’s passing
Leading the tributes, US President Joe Biden said Pope Benedict would be “remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.”
Biden — a church-going Catholic who disagrees with church teaching on abortion — issued a statement recalling a meeting with Benedict at the Vatican in 2011.
He recalled Benedict’s “generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation” and hoped the late pope’s “focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed Benedict as the “German pope.”
“The world has lost a formative figure of the Catholic Church, an argumentative personality and a clever theologian,” Scholz wrote on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron said his thoughts were with “the Catholics of France and around the world, bereaved by the departure of His Holiness Benedict XVI, who worked with soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world.”
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “saddened” to learn of Benedict’s passing, calling his visit to the UK in 2010 “an historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country.”
Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called Benedict, “A Christian, a pastor, a theologian: a great man whom history will not forget.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also both paid tribute to the former pontiff who succeeded the Polish Pope John Paul II.
The world has lost “one of the most extraordinary theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries,” Duda wrote on Twitter, while Morawiecki called him “a great Catholic thinker, a spiritual authority and a man — albeit a modest one — of exceptional stature.”
Religious and lay leaders mourn loss
The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, recalled Benedict as an “impressive theologian and an experienced pastor.”
“We are mourning a personality who imparted hope and direction to the church even in difficult times.”
Bätzing said that the German Catholic Church was particularly grateful for Benedict, “he was born in our country, here was his home, here he helped shape Church life as a theological teacher and a bishop.”
“The unconditional authority of Benedict XVI as an outstanding theologian allowed him to make a significant contribution to the development of inter-Christian cooperation.. and to the defence of traditional moral values,” he said in a statement.
Who was Pope Benedict?
Benedict — whose birth name was Joseph Ratzinger — stepped down from the role in 2013, citing his declining health. He was the first pope to resign since the Middle Ages.
The Bavarian-born Ratzinger was named pope in 2005. He had previously served as the Archbishop of Munich before leaving Germany to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1982.
He was a critic of environmental destruction and the “cruelty of capitalism” but was a staunch conservative on religious matters.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was much respected in his home country of Germany. But criticism mounted after it emerged that he provided false information during an investigation into sexual abuse in the church.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler
‘We are pope’
“We are pope” Germany’s leading tabloid Bild said on April 19, 2005 when the College of Cardinals elected 78-year-old Joseph Ratzinger to succeed John Paul II as the 265th pope. Taking the name Benedict XVI, he displayed humility while assuming the papal throne: “The cardinals have elected me, a modest laborer in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Kleinschmidt
A life by God’s side
Born on April 16, 1927, Joseph Ratzinger (at left) grew up during World War II. Early in his life, Ratzinger decided to follow the path of the church, and even as a boy expressed his wish to become a cardinal.
During the war, Ratzinger was required to join the Hitler Youth at the age of 16. Ratzinger later said he left the group as soon as organizers stopped requiring him to attend. He is pictured here in 1943. In 1944, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht. At the end of the war he was briefly held as a prisoner of war by United States forces, but was released in June 1945.
Image: Getty Images/AFP/STF
Priest, professor, pope
Ratzinger studied theology, was ordained in 1952 and became a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg at the early age of 30. Ratzinger was initially seen as a progressive member of the church, but he reportedly became more conservative after the student protests of the late 1960s.
Image: Getty Images/AFP/KNA
Influential theologian called to Rome
In 1981, just four years after he was made archbishop of Munich and Freising, Pope John Paul II brought Ratzinger (right) to Rome — appointing him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, making him the most powerful enforcer of Catholic doctrine. That an academic with limited pastoral experience should rise so high in the church hierarchy was a bone of contention for critics.
Cardinal Ratzinger became increasingly conservative, something he had in common with John Paul II. Advice on the prohibition of abortion, and against contraception and Latin American liberation theology bore his hallmarks. He stayed true to his conservative path throughout his papacy.
A church in crisis
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI’s lifting of the excommunications of four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, one of whom had denied the Holocaust, caused a global outcry. Poor personnel decisions, a lack of ecumenical progress — and above all, the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy, which was covered up for decades — all marred the pope’s tenure.
Image: Getty Images
‘Scourge’ of sexual abuse
Pope Benedict did try to address the issue of sexual abuse, including reaching out to victims. He described the abuse of minors by priests as a “scourge” that caused “great suffering.” Although he did tighten restrictions for training priests, critics accused him of doing too little. Indeed, it was his successor who called the first major crisis meeting on the topic in the Vatican.
Criticism from Germany
On his third visit to Germany in 2011, Benedict XVI was received by adoring crowds, such as here in Erfurt. But the pope also faced harsh criticism: He was accused of ignoring victims’ associations in his deliberations and discussions. And his strict refusal to allow Holy Communion to couples of mixed denominations was seen as a rejection of ecumenical values.
Collision course with Islam
At the Carnival parade in Mainz in 2007, Benedict XVI was depicted driving into a mosque in his “popemobile.” The float was an allusion to a controversial statement by the pope, in which he quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, who said the Prophet Muhammad had brought “only evil and inhumanity” into the world. His choice of words caused a storm of controversy in the Muslim world.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Dedert
Following his resignation in 2013, Benedict XVI pledged to obey his successor, Francis. Yet the pope emeritus did raise his voice again. In early 2020, he published a book in which he argued vehemently against changing the vow of priestly celibacy. Francis had refused to rule out consecrating married men as priests.
Image: Reuters/Vatican Media
Admitting to false testimony
On January 24, 2022, the former pope apologized for providing false information during a probe into sexual abuse in his old Munich archdiocese. His statement read that this was not done “with ill intent,” but was an “oversight.” Benedict had told an inquiry he had not been present at a 1980 meeting to discuss the case of a pedophile priest who had been allowed to remain in office.
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