Former Pope Benedict XVI dies aged 95

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives for the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican in 2010 - Shutterstock
Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives for the weekly general audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2010 – Shutterstock

The former Pope Benedict, the first leader of the Catholic Church to stand down in 600 years, has died aged 95, a spokesman for the Holy See said.

“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. Further information will be provided as soon as possible,” the spokesman said in a written statement.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Pope Benedict. He will be remembered as one of the great theologians of the 20th century.

“I remember with particular affection the remarkable Papal Visit to these lands in 2010. We saw his courtesy, his gentleness, the perceptiveness of his mind and the openness of his welcome to everybody that he met.

“He was through and through a gentleman, through and through a scholar, through and through a pastor, through and through a man of God – close to the Lord and always his humble servant.

“Pope Benedict is very much in my heart and in my prayers. I give thanks to God for his ministry and leadership.”

In this file photo taken on April 6, 2006 Pope Benedict XVI salutes the believers during a meeting with young Catholics in St Peter's Square at the Vatican in preparation of the XXI World Youth Day. - Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a German theologian whose 2013 resignation took the world by surprise, died on December 31 2022, at the age of 95, the Vatican announced - AFP
In this file photo taken on April 6, 2006 Pope Benedict XVI salutes the believers during a meeting with young Catholics in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican in preparation of the XXI World Youth Day. – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a German theologian whose 2013 resignation took the world by surprise, died on December 31 2022, at the age of 95, the Vatican announced – AFP

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales will celebrate Requiem Masses for the repose of the soul of the late Pope Emeritus in their cathedrals.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said he was “saddened” to learn of Benedict’s death. “He was a great theologian whose UK visit in 2010 was an historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country.”

Pope Francis warned that his 95-year-old predecessor was very ill and appealed to everyone to pray for him on Wednesday.

A day later the Vatican said the former Pope “was able to rest well last night”.

Benedict XVI became the first leader of the Catholic Church to stand down in 600 years in 2013. He cited old age.

The Vatican said his body will lie in state in St Peter’s Basilica from Monday.

Faithful gather in St. Peter's Square after former Pope Benedict died at the Vatican, December 31, 2022. - Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters
Faithful gather in St. Peter’s Square after former Pope Benedict died at the Vatican, December 31, 2022. – Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Benedict was the first German pope in 1,000 years. He had good relations with Pope Francis but his continued presence inside the Vatican after he stepped down polarised the Church ideologically.

Conservatives looked to him as a guardian of tradition in the face of Francis’s progressive moves.

Benedict was 78 when he succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005.

He had previously served as the Church’s chief doctrinal enforcer, earning the nickname “God’s Rottweiler” and a reputation as a generally conservative thinker on theological issues.

As pope he came under fire for a string of public relations blunders, and a perceived lack of charisma.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from inside his popemobile as he leaves after the celebration of the Eucharist on Cathedral Square in Erfurt...Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from inside his popemobile as he leaves after the celebration of the Eucharist on Cathedral Square in Erfurt, September 24, 2011. Pope Benedict visits his German homeland, touring mostly Protestant and atheist regions in the ex-communist east after previous visits to Catholic strongholds in the Rhineland and his native Bavaria - Reuters
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from inside his popemobile as he leaves after the celebration of the Eucharist on Cathedral Square in Erfurt…Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from inside his popemobile as he leaves after the celebration of the Eucharist on Cathedral Square in Erfurt, September 24, 2011. Pope Benedict visits his German homeland, touring mostly Protestant and atheist regions in the ex-communist east after previous visits to Catholic strongholds in the Rhineland and his native Bavaria – Reuters

The first pope to take serious action against abuse, Benedict repeatedly apologised for the Church’s failure to root out sexual abuse of children by clergy after the efforts failed to halt a rapid decline in church attendance in the West, especially in Europe.

In 2022, an independent report in his native Germany alleged that Benedict had failed to take action in four abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich between 1977-1982.

Shaken by the report, he acknowledged in an emotional personal letter that errors had occurred and asked for forgiveness. His lawyers argued in a detailed rebuttal that he was not directly to blame.

One of the most prominent organisations for the survivors of sex abuse by Catholic clergy, SNAP, said: “In our view, Pope Benedict XVI, much like John Paul II, was more concerned about the church’s deteriorating image and financial flow to the hierarchy (than) grasping the concept of genuine apologies followed by true amends to victims of abuse.

“The rot of clergy sexual abuse of children and adults, including their own nuns and seminarians, runs throughout the Catholic church, to every country.

“Any celebration that marks the life of abuse enablers like Pope Benedict must end. It is time for the Vatican to refocus on change: tell the truth about known abusive clergy, protect children and adults, and allow justice to those who have been hurt.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, described the former pope as “one of the greatest theologians of his age”.

“In Pope Benedict’s long life and ministry of service to Christ in His Church he saw many profound changes in the church and in the world. He lived through the Nazi regime in Germany and served briefly in the Second World War.

“Pope Benedict was one of the greatest theologians of his age – committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence.”

Benedict’s decision to resign was brave, the Archbishop said. “In 2013 Pope Benedict took the courageous and humble step to resign the papacy, the first Pope to do so since the fifteenth century. In making this choice freely he acknowledged the human frailty that affects us all.”

The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, said: “Joining dear companions in the Catholic Church as we all give thanks for the life and witness of Pope Benedict, and commend him to the God he served so faithfully, praying, as ever, for the unity of God’s church, and for the souls of all the faithful departed. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

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