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Benedict, former Pope, dies aged 95

31 December 2022


Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

THE Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, has died at the age of 95, the Vatican announced on Saturday morning.

A statement from the press office of the Holy See said that Benedict died at 8.34 a.m. GMT in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, where he had been living since his resignation from the papacy in 2013. He was the first pope in almost 600 years to step down from the position.

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who is also Archbishop of Westminster, released a statement on Saturday morning describing the former pope as “through and through a gentleman, through and through a scholar, through and through a pastor, through and through a man of God”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said: “Today I join with the Church throughout the world, and especially with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and all in the Catholic Church, in mourning the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. . . In his life and ministry Pope Benedict strove to direct people to Christ. May he now rest in Christ’s peace, and rise in glory with all the Saints.”

The Vatican statement announced that “the body of the Pope Emeritus will be in St Peter’s Basilica so the faithful can bid farewell” from Monday morning. The funeral will take place on 5 January, and will be conducted by Pope Francis. Last week, a Roman Catholic historian, Professor John McGreevy, told BBC News: “We’ve never had this before where a living pope will help bury a dead pope.”

Elected to the papacy in 2005, Pope Benedict took the almost unprecedented decision to step down after eight years in post, citing his deteriorating “strength of mind and body” (News, 13 February 2013). The previous papal abdication was that of Gregory XII in 1415.

In the statement announcing his resignation in 2013, Pope Benedict said: “In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes, and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity adequately to fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

After his retirement, Pope Benedict adopted the title “Pope Emeritus”, and continued to live in an apartment in the Vatican. His public appearances have been few, especially in recent years amid reports of ill-health.

The news that Pope Benedict was close to death was announced by his successor at the end of his general audience on Wednesday. Pope Francis said that his predecessor was “very sick” and asked for prayers.

The next day, the director of the Vatican’s press office, Matteo Bruni, said that Pope Benedict was “absolutely lucid and alert”, and that his situation was “serious” but “stable”.

Widely regarded as a conservative figure during his papacy, Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in Germany on 16 April 1927, and before being elected pope was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department in charge of upholding Roman Catholic doctrine.

He combined scholarship with his clerical career, publishing his most famous book — An Introduction to Christianity — in 1968, an exposition of the Apostles’ Creed that was reportedly much admired by Pope Paul VI, and became a bestseller.

In his statement on Saturday morning, Cardinal Nichols described Pope Benedict as “one of the great theologians of the 20th century”. This view was echoed by Archbishop Welby, who said in his statement that the former pope was “committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence.

“In all things, not least in his writing and his preaching, he looked to Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. It was abundantly clear that Christ was the root of his thought and the basis of his prayer,” Archbishop Welby said.

His papacy, however, was marred by the unfolding scandal of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests around the world. Earlier this year, Benedict published an open letter of apology to victims of abuse by clergy (News, 11 February). Earlier in the year, he admitted to having made an incorrect statement in the course of an investigation of abuse in the diocese of Munich and Freising, where he was Archbishop from 1977 to 1982 (News, 24 January).

Obituary to follow.

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