Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, has died in the Vatican at the age of 95 after a period of ill health.
Benedict, who became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign rather than hold the office for life, died on Saturday, according to a Vatican statement.
“It is with sadness that I inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 a.m. in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican,” said the Holy See’s director of press, Matteo Bruni.
“Further information will be provided as soon as possible.”
News of his death came days after Pope Francis asked the faithful to pray for Benedict, saying he was “very ill”.
“I want to ask all of you for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who in his silence supports the Church. He is very sick. We ask the Lord to comfort and support him in this witness of love for the Church until the very end,” Francis said at his general audience on Wednesday.
His health had been deteriorating for some time.
Benedict stunned Catholic believers and religious experts around the world on 11 February 2013 when he announced plans to step down as pope, citing his “advanced age”.
In his farewell address, the outgoing pope promised to remain “hidden” from the world, but continued to speak out on religious matters in the years after his retirement, adding to tensions within the Catholic Church.
A powerful and polarizing voice
Benedict has been a powerful force in the Catholic Church for decades.
Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927 in Germany and was the son of a policeman. He was ordained a priest in 1951, became a cardinal in 1977 and later served as chief theological advisor to Pope John Paul II.
One of his most significant steps up came in 1981, when he took over as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that oversees “doctrine of faith and morals throughout the Catholic world,” according to the Vatican.
Ratzinger became known as “Cardinal No.” due to his efforts to crack down on the liberation theology movement, religious pluralism, challenging traditional teaching on issues such as homosexuality, and calling for the ordination of women as priests.
He was elected Pope in April 2005 after the death of John Paul II.
He was known to be more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who took steps to soften the Vatican’s stance on abortion and homosexuality and also did more to address the sex-abuse crisis that has engulfed and darkened the church in recent years. Benedict’s legacy.
In April 2019, Benedict discussed the sexual abuse crisis in a public letter, arguing that it was partly due to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the Church’s moral teaching.
In January 2020, Benedict was forced to distance himself from a book widely seen as undermining Francis as he considered whether or not to allow married men to become priests in certain cases. The book “From the depths of our hearts” argued in favor of the centuries-old tradition of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church. Benedikt was initially listed as a co-author, but later clarified that he contributed only one part of the text.
A year later, Benedict came under fire during his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982 after a church-commissioned report into abuse by Catholic clergy was published.
The report found that while in office, he was informed of four cases of sexual abuse of minors — including two that occurred while he was in office — but failed to act. It also revealed that Benedict had attended a meeting about an abuser identified as Priest X. After the report was released, Benedict pushed back against accusations that he knew the priest was an abuser in 1980.
In a letter released by the Vatican amid the uproar, Benedict wrote that despite his shortcomings he was “in good spirits” as he faced “the last judge of my life”. He also issued a general apology to survivors of the abuse.