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Former Pope Benedict XVI dies at 95

December 31, 2022

The German-born pope emeritus, who was in poor health, passed away in a Vatican monastery. His successor Pope Francis previously called on the faithful to pray for Benedict.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI raises his hand in blessing during a visit to Germany in 2011
The former pope has died in a Vatican monastery nine years after stepping downImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

The German-born ex-Pope Benedict XVI passed away at the age of 95 in the Vatican on Saturday.

"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," the Vatican announced.

It added that "the body of the Pope Emeritus will be in Saint Peter's Basilica so the faithful can bid farewell" from Monday, January 2.

Pope Francis is due to lead the service for his predecessor on St. Peter's Square on Thursday.

World reacts to former pope's passing

Leading the tributes, US President Joe Biden said Pope Benedict would be "remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith."

Biden — a church-going Catholic who disagrees with church teaching on abortion — issued a statement recalling a meeting with Benedict at the Vatican in 2011.

He recalled Benedict's "generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation" and hoped the late pope's "focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all.''

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed Benedict as the "German pope."

"The world has lost a formative figure of the Catholic Church, an argumentative personality and a clever theologian," Scholz wrote on Twitter.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his thoughts were with "the Catholics of France and around the world, bereaved by the departure of His Holiness Benedict XVI, who worked with soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world."

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was "saddened" to learn of Benedict's passing, calling his visit to the UK in 2010 "an historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country."

Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called Benedict, "A Christian, a pastor, a theologian: a great man whom history will not forget."

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also both paid tribute to the former pontiff who succeeded the Polish Pope John Paul II.

The world has lost "one of the most extraordinary theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries," Duda wrote on Twitter, while Morawiecki called him "a great Catholic thinker, a spiritual authority and a man — albeit a modest one — of exceptional stature."

Religious and lay leaders mourn loss

The head of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, recalled Benedict as an "impressive theologian and an experienced pastor."

"We are mourning a personality who imparted hope and direction to the church even in difficult times."

Bätzing said that the German Catholic Church was particularly grateful for Benedict, "he was born in our country, here was his home, here he helped shape Church life as a theological teacher and a bishop."

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill — who has been an outspoken supporter of the invasion of Ukraine — praised Benedict for his defense of "traditional values."

"The unconditional authority of Benedict XVI as an outstanding theologian allowed him to make a significant contribution to the development of inter-Christian cooperation.. and to the defence of traditional moral values," he said in a statement.

Who was Pope Benedict?

Benedict — whose birth name was Joseph Ratzinger — stepped down from the role in 2013, citing his declining health. He was the first pope to resign since the Middle Ages.

The Bavarian-born Ratzinger was named pope in 2005. He had previously served as the Archbishop of Munich before leaving Germany to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1982.

He was a critic of environmental destruction and the "cruelty of capitalism" but was a staunch conservative on religious matters.

However, he also came under fire for the numerous sex abuse scandals that took place in the German Catholic Church under his watch. Earlier this year, he admitted to giving a false statement during an investigation into the abuse scandal.

mm, ab/dj (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)