- Former Pope Benedict XVI died in his Vatican residence at the age of 95.
- His body will lie in state in St. Peter’s Basilica for a while to allow people to say goodbye to him.
- He was the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
Former Pope Benedict, the first pontiff in 600 years to resign and a standard-bearer for conservatives who longed for a more traditional Church, has died, ending an extraordinary period in which two men in white lived in the Vatican.
Benedict, 95, died on Saturday in a former monastery where he had lived since his shock resignation in 2013.
In his first public comment after the death, Pope Francis said the Church and the world had lost a noble and kind person.
Bells rang in Rome as news of his death, which followed a rapid deterioration in his health over Christmas, spread to the faithful on an unseasonably warm winter’s day.
Many went to pray in the Plaça de Sant Pere when they heard the news.
“Now we will only have one pope. I have to say that Pope Ratzinger was a charismatic pope, humble but above all a great theologian,” said French tourist Emilie Gaillard, using Benedict’s last name.
Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful after a mass at the cathedral in Munich, southern Germany, July 8, 2001. Source: AAP / Dieter Endlicher
The Vatican said his body will lie in state from Monday in St Peter’s Basilica and that Pope Francis will preside over his funeral on Thursday morning in the same square where Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, delivered the funeral mass for his predecessor, the pope. John Paul II, in 2005.
“It is with sadness that I inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 a.m. at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
First German Pope in 1,000 years
“According to the wishes of the pope emeritus, the funeral will take place in a display of simplicity,” Bruni said, adding that the service would be “solemn and sober.”
The Vatican has elaborate rituals for what happens after the death of a reigning pope, but none are publicly known for a former pope, one of many complications created by Benedict’s resignation.
The Vatican said official government delegations to the funeral would be limited to those from Germany and Italy. Other dignitaries could attend in a private capacity.
Leaders offer condolences
Pope Francis revealed on Wednesday that his predecessor was “very ill”.
Bruni said Benedict had received the last rites, formerly known as Extreme Unction and now called “the anointing of the sick,” on the same day.
Pope Francis greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during a meeting with newly appointed Cardinals at the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery on August 27, 2022 in Vatican City, Vatican City. Source: Getty / Vatican Pool / Getty Images
Leaders were quick to send their condolences to Benedict, who was the first German pope in 1,000 years.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was saddened to hear of Pope Benedict’s death.
“We mourn the death of our Bavarian pope,” said Markus Soeder, prime minister of Benedict’s home state.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Twitter that the world had lost “a formative figure of the Catholic Church”.
US President Joe Biden said: “He will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and his faith… May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us. everything.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed Benedict as “a great man that history will never forget,” while Polish President Andrzej Duda called him “one of the greatest theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said Benedict had “worked with all his soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world”.
Britain’s King Charles said he fondly remembered his meeting with Benedict and noted “his constant efforts to promote peace and good will among all people, and to strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the “Roman Catholic Church”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Benedict was principled in his faith, tireless in his pursuit of peace and resolute in his defense of human rights.
“His powerful calls for solidarity with marginalized people everywhere and his urgent calls to close the widening gap between rich and poor are more relevant than ever.”
For almost 25 years, as Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict was the powerful head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, then known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and considered one of the Church’s greatest theologians .
In this role, he crushed the dissent of liberation theologians, saying they mixed Marxist thought and Christianity.
He was elected pope on April 19, 2005 to succeed the popular John Pau, who had reigned for 27 years.
The Cardinals picked him among their number looking for continuity and what one called “a safe pair of hands.”
Child abuse scandals dogged most of his papacy, but he is credited with starting the process to discipline or remove predatory priests after a more lax attitude under his predecessor.
But Benedict himself acknowledged he was a weak administrator, saying he showed a “lack of decisiveness in governance and decision-making” during his eight-year papacy, which was marked by mistakes, especially in relations with Islam and Judaism.
The year before his resignation was dominated by the “Vatileaks” scandal, in which private papal documents leaked to the media, exposing a dysfunctional Vatican divided by infighting, corruption and feuds.
He announced his resignation in Latin at a routine meeting of cardinals.
Many had no idea what he had said, and it was some time before the news got through. He himself said that he no longer had enough strength to lead the Church because of his “advanced age”.
“I’m not sure what to expect”
After his resignation, he settled in a converted convent on the grounds of the Vatican and chose the title of “pope emeritus”.
Although he said he would remain “hidden from the world” in retirement, Benedict sometimes stirred controversy and spread confusion through his writings and interviews.
Although he rarely appeared in public, Catholic conservatives regarded the former pope as their standard-bearer, and some ultra-traditionalists even refused to recognize Francis as the legitimate pontiff.
They have criticized Francis for his more welcoming approach to members of the LGBTQ+ community and Catholics who divorced and remarried outside the Church, saying both were undermining traditional values.
Despite the difficulties that arose from having two men dressed in white in the Vatican, Francis developed a warm relationship with Benedict and said it was like having a grandfather living in the house.