Pope Benedict XVI, the “pope emeritus” whose eight-year papacy was defined by staunch advocacy for a return to traditional Catholicism — including his elevation of the Traditional Latin Mass — and who shocked the world when he “resigned” as leader of the church in 2013 amid myriad health problems, died on Saturday in a secluded monastery in the Vatican where he had lived since stepping down, a spokesman for the Holy See said.
He was 95.
The Vatican said his body would lie in state from Monday in St.Peter's Basilica. The Vatican has painstakingly elaborate rituals for what happens after a reigning pope dies but no publicly known ones for a former pope.
"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," spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.
The funeral will be next Thursday, January 5th at 9:30 a.m. local time in St. Peter's Square, presided over by Pope Francis.
Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, suffered from health complications for decades and lived in a renovated monastery on the Vatican grounds during his “emeritus” years.
His successor, Pope Francis, on Wednesday revealed that Benedict was “very sick” and asked for “a special prayer.” A Vatican spokesperson soon confirmed a “deterioration” in the previous pope’s health.
Amid his array of health issues, Benedict in February wrote about how he was reflecting on and preparing for his death.
“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” he wrote. “Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcoming, and is thus also my advocate, my ‘Paraclete.’”
Benedict had reportedly tried three times to resign for health reasons prior to his election as pope but stayed on each time due to the wishes of Pope John Paul II, his predecessor in the papacy with whom he was close. Even before his election, Benedict had suffered a stroke and been fitted with a pacemaker.
In August 2020, it was revealed that he also had inflammation of the trigeminal nerve — the nerve responsible for sensation in the face. Shortly thereafter, Benedict reportedly told new Cardinals that “the Lord has taken away my speech in order to let me appreciate silence.”
Born in 1927 on Holy Saturday in Bavaria, Germany, he was baptized the same day.
A source of some controversy, Benedict joined the Hitler Youth at the age of 14 in 1941, a service that was legally required at the time. But he was described as having refused to attend meetings and being opposed to the fascist cause, as was his family. A cousin with Down syndrome was reportedly murdered by the Nazis in 1943, and when Benedict was drafted into the anti-aircraft corps. and soon transferred to the Nazi infantry, he deserted.
Benedict was ordained a priest in 1951 and became one of the most prolific and eloquent Catholic authors of his era. He was appointed a full professor at the age of 31, embarking on a lengthy career as a theologian.
His rapid ascent in the Vatican hierarchy began in 1977, when he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising and made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI. One year later, John Paul II was elected pope and within a few years, he appointed Benedict as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — a position of utmost importance with a mission of defending the Church from heresy.
In a 2014 interview with a Spanish newspaper, Benedict said his decades of “collaboration” with John Paul II were “always marked by friendship and affection.”
“My memory of John Paul II is filled with gratitude,” Benedict said at the time. “I couldn't and shouldn't try to imitate him, but I have tried to carry forward his legacy and his work the best that I could.”
Elected as pope after his friend’s death in 2005, Benedict struggled to earn even a measure of the popularity of his predecessor. But his time as head of the Church was significant, re-establishing the Latin Mass and championing traditional Catholicism in the face of a more liberal world order.
In February 2013, Benedict stepped aside in a stunning move due to a “lack of strength of mind and body.” He had predicted a short tenure early in his papacy and he later said that any indecision about resigning was washed away by a “mystical experience” that communicated the path God meant for him.
Despite their philosophical differences, the more conservative Benedict and more progressive Francis reportedly enjoyed a warm rapport.
Francis described Benedict as “a great one” during a recent interview with the Spanish ABC network.
Asked what he appreciated most about Benedict, Francis replied: “That he’s a saint. He’s a man of great spiritual life.”
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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