Pope Francis has said his predecessor Pope Benedict, the 95-year-old former pontiff who resigned nine years ago, is “very ill” after his health deteriorated on Wednesday.
“I want to ask all of you for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict who sustains the Church in its silence. He is very sick,” Francis said during his general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.
“We ask the Lord to comfort him and sustain him in this witness of love to the Church until the end.”
A Vatican spokesman later confirmed that “in the last few hours there has been a deterioration due to (Benedict’s) advancing age.”
“The situation at the moment remains monitored and continuously monitored by his doctors,” said the spokesman, Matteo Bruni, who added that Francis visited his predecessor at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City after his general audience.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC, asked Catholics and “people of good will to pray for Benedict XVI,” in a post on Twitter Wednesday.
“He served our Church in many roles: priest, scholar, diocesan bishop, curial official and pontiff. May Christ reward him for his loving service,” said Gregory of Benedict.
In 2013, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by making the almost unprecedented decision to step down from his post, citing “advanced age.”
Benedict’s announcement marked the first time a pope had resigned in nearly 600 years. The last pope to resign before his death was Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 to end a civil war within the Catholic Church in which more than one man claimed to be pope.
In 2020, the Vatican said Benedict had suffered from a “painful but not serious condition”, following reports in the German media that he was ill.
Two years earlier, in a rare public letter published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Benedict wrote that “in the slow waning of my physical strength, inside I am on a pilgrimage home.”
Benedict’s legacy has been clouded by recent scrutiny of his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising, from 1977 to 1982, after a Church-commissioned report into clergy abuse was published in January catholic
The report found that he had reported four cases of child sexual abuse, including two during his time in Munich, but failed to act and had attended a meeting about an abusive priest.
Benedict later rejected these allegations, admitting that he had attended the meeting but denying that he had intentionally concealed his presence.
In a statement shared with CNN, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) spoke of the “mixed feelings” the public may have about Benedict. “Sadly, many victims of clergy abuse are not out of the woods when it comes to healing their wounds and getting the justice they deserve,” SNAP wrote.