Dignitaries and religious leaders have given the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. tribute, who died on Saturday at the age of 95 in a convent in the Vatican.
Benedict, who became the first pope in almost 600 years to resign rather than hold office for life, died on Saturday, according to a Vatican statement.
“It is with regret that I inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. died today at 9.34 a.m. at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Press Office of the Holy See.
The funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. will be held in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. local time, Bruni said. The funeral will be presided over by Pope Francis.
The body of the former pope will be laid out in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican from Monday for the faithful to say their goodbyes, Vatican News reported on Saturday. At the request of the Pope Emeritus, his funeral will be “simple,” Bruni said.
News of his death came days after Pope Francis asked the faithful to pray for Benedict and said he was “very ill”.
“I would like to ask you all for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict who sustains the Church in his silence. He is very sick. We ask the Lord to comfort and sustain him in this testimony of love for the Church to the end,” Francis said during his general audience on Wednesday.
His health has been deteriorating for some time.
Benedict stunned Catholic believers and religious experts around the world on February 11, 2013, when he announced plans to step down as pope, citing his “advanced age.”
In his farewell speech, the outgoing pope vowed to remain “hidden” from the world, but he continued to speak out on religious issues in the years after his retirement, adding to tensions within the Catholic Church.
Benedict was a powerful force in the Catholic Church for decades. He was born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1927, the son of a policeman. He was ordained a priest in 1951, made a cardinal in 1977, and later served as chief theological adviser to Pope John Paul II.
One of his most significant ascents came in 1981, when he took over as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office which, according to the Vatican, oversees “the doctrine of faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.”
Ratzinger became known as “Cardinal No” for his crackdown on the liberation theology movement, religious pluralism, challenging traditional teachings on issues such as homosexuality, and calls for women to be ordained to the priesthood.
He was elected Pope in April 2005 after the death of John Paul II.
He was notoriously more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who has taken steps to soften the Vatican’s position on abortion and homosexuality and to do more to deal with the sex abuse crisis that has gripped and tarnished the Church in recent years Benedict’s legacy.
In April 2019, Benedict discussed the sexual abuse crisis in a public letter, claiming that it was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the Church’s moral teachings.
In January 2020, Benedict was forced to distance himself from a book widely seen as undercutting 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 within the Catholic Church. Benedict was originally listed as a co-author, but later clarified that he only contributed a portion of the text.
A year later, Benedict came under fire for his tenure as Archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982 after a church-commissioned report on abuse by Catholic clergy there was released.
The report found that he had been informed of four allegations of child sexual abuse during his tenure – including two that had occurred during his tenure – but had taken no action. It also revealed that Benedict had attended a meeting about an abuser identified as Priest X. After the report was published, Benedict has denied allegations that he knew in 1980 that this priest was an abuser.
In a letter released by the Vatican amid the excitement, Benedict wrote that despite his shortcomings, he was “of good cheer” as he faced “the final judge of my life.” He also issued a general apology to survivors of the abuse.
World leaders paid tribute to the former Pope after his death. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England, said he “mourned” the loss of the former pope.
“Pope Benedict was one of the greatest theologians of his day – committed to the faith of the Church and steadfast in its defense,” Welby said in a statement Saturday.
“In everything, not least in his writing and 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 foundation of his prayer.
“In 2013, Pope Benedict took the bold and humble step of becoming the first pope to resign from the papacy since the 15th century. By making this choice freely, he acknowledged the human frailty that affects us all,” he added.
“I am saddened by the death of His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola tweeted on Saturday.
“Europe mourns him. Rest in peace.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also paid tribute. “I am saddened by the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. to know,” Sunak tweeted on Saturday.
“He was a great theologian whose visit to Britain in 2010 was a historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics in our country.
“My thoughts today are with the Catholic people of the UK and around the world,” Sunak added.
Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her admiration for the former Pope. “Benedict XVI. was a giant of faith and reason. He has dedicated his life to the service of the universal church and has spoken to people’s hearts and minds with the spiritual, cultural and intellectual depth of his ministry and will continue to do so,” she tweeted on Saturday.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday that the former Pope had “sent a strong signal with his resignation”.
“The death of Pope Benedict saddens me. My sympathy goes out to all Catholics,” von der Leyen said in a tweet, adding: “He sent a strong signal with his resignation. He saw himself first as a servant of God and his church.”
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