Benedict XVI, first Roman Catholic pope to resign in 600 years, dies days after illness disclosed

Must read

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the longtime theologian and defender of the Catholic faith who in 2013 became the first global leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 600 years to resign, died Saturday morning at the Vatican.

The Vatican said Benedict’s body will lie at St. Peter’s Basilica beginning Monday morning so “the faithful can pay their respects.” 

Pope Francis, 86, who succeeded Benedict in 2013, will preside over the funeral Thursday in St. Peter’s Square. Matteo Bruni, the Vatican’s spokesman, said “Benedict specifically asked that everything — including the funeral — be marked by simplicity, just as he lived his life,” according to the official Vatican news service.

The Associated Press reported that only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations to the event.

“Jill and I join Catholics around the world, and so many others, in mourning the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,” President Biden said in a statement Saturday.

Mr. Biden, who met with Benedict at the Vatican in 2011, said he would “always remember his generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation” and hoped the late prelate’s “focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all.”

At a Vatican service to mark the end of 2022, Francis said Benedict was a “noble person, so kind,” according to the Vatican News agency. 

We feel such gratitude in our hearts: gratitude to God for having given him to the Church and to the world; gratitude to him for all the good he accomplished, and above all, for his witness of faith and prayer, especially in these last years of his recollected life. Only God knows the value and the power of his intercession, of the sacrifices he offered for the good of the Church,” the current pope said.

The retired pontiff had previously expressed a desire to be buried in the grotto below St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that had been used for the late Pope St. John Paul II. His predecessor’s remains were transferred to the Basilica itself on his canonization.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat and outgoing House speaker, remembered Benedict as “a global leader whose devotion, scholarship and hopeful message stirred the hearts of people of all faiths.”

“Spiritually, I am always moved by Pope Benedict’s powerful encyclical, ‘God is Love,’ where he quotes St. Augustine highlighting our moral duty as public servants to fight for justice,” she said.

“Generations will continue to be enriched by his books, discourses and homilies,” Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement Saturday. “They all reveal a depth of learning and reflection that is essential both in our time and in the future.”

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, said Benedict “lived a distinguished and generous life in service to Catholicism and humanity. His long life included not only his ecclesial contributions, but his impassioned pleas for world peace, human understanding and global solidarity.”

And Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, said Benedict was “a devoted student of the Word of God and steeped in the Church’s liturgical and theological tradition, he was able to engage the modern world with intellectual clarity and pastoral charity.”

Born in small town, became global figure

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1925, in Marktl, Bavaria, a small village of 2,800 near the Austrian border. His father was a police officer, his mother’s family was originally from South Tyrol, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire but annexed by Italy in 1919.

At the age of 5, the young Joseph was one of several children who welcomed the then-Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, to Marktl. He said that day he would become a cardinal himself.

During World War II, his family opposed the Nazis, but Joseph was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, although his older brother Georg, said he refused to attend meetings. Drafted into the Luftwaffenhelfer, an auxiliary to the Nazi’s air forces, in 1943 while in seminary, Joseph deserted in 1945. He was briefly interred in a POW camp, but released at the end of the war that year.

Both Ratzinger brothers entered the St. Michael Seminary in Traunstein, Germany, in November 1945, and both were ordained in Freising, Germany, by Cardinal von Faulhaber in 1951. Six years later, Joseph completed his habilitation, the highest university degree, and qualified for a professorship at Freising College the following year. He would later teach at the universities of Bonn, Munich, Tübingen and then Regensburg, where he served as a vice president.

Early in his academic career, Rev. Ratzinger was a peritus, or theological consultant, at the Second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965, assisting Cardinal Josef Richard Frings of Cologne, Germany. Rupert Matthews, in his book “The Popes: Every Question Answered,” said Rev. Ratzinger’s participation in Vatican II “brought him to the notice of churchmen from many different countries.”

Rev. Ratzinger’s scholarly work drew even more attention. In 1968, he published “Introduction to Christianity,” a text still in print. The Most Rev. Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries, a Catholic outreach, said the volume was Ratzinger’s “great book” and one he often used in seminary teaching.

Named an archbishop, created a cardinal

In March 1977, Pope Paul VI named Rev. Ratzinger the archbishop of Munich and Friesing, the post Cardinal von Faulhaber held when the 5-year-old Joseph first met the prelate. Three months later, Paul VI elevated him to the rank of cardinal.

Four years later, Pope John Paul II summoned the cardinal to Rome to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), previously known as the Holy Office and in the 16th century the locus of the Inquisition. There, he worked with the pontiff and a committee of scholars on the 1992 “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” a one-volume summary of the church’s teachings.

When he turned 70 in 1997, Benedict asked to retire and turn to scholarly pursuits.

John Paul II refused Benedict’s request. He remained head of the CDF until the pope’s death in 2005 and his own election.

Ten years later, he told Vatican archivists, “I very much hoped that the beloved John Paul II would have allowed me to devote myself to the study of interesting documents and manuscripts which you preserve with such care, true masterpieces which help us study the history of humanity and Christianity.”

Pontificate marked by challenges, shock resignation

Cardinal Ratzinger was highly favored to succeed John Paul II, his election coming in a conclave that followed the massive funeral for his predecessor that saw numerous world leaders including U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush pay their respects.

Unlike the outgoing personality of his athletic predecessor — John Paul II took to the slopes when vacationing early in his pontificate — Benedict XVI’s bookish and quiet nature didn’t lend itself to the media age.

The Associated Press reported Benedict “spoke in paragraphs, not soundbites. He had a weakness for orange Fanta as well as his beloved library; when he was elected pope, he had his entire study moved — as is — from his apartment just outside the Vatican walls into the Apostolic Palace. The books followed him to his retirement home.”

“In them are all my advisers,” the wire service quoted Benedict as saying of his books in the 2010 book-length interview “Light of the World.” “I know every nook and cranny, and everything has its history.”

Slammed as “God’s Rottweiler” by critics who disagreed with his doctrinal orthodoxy, Benedict held great sway for more than 25 years as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose 16th century incarnation as the “Holy Office” spearheaded the Inquisition. 

He drew fire for not doing enough in the decades-long sexual abuse scandals of the church, even though as a cardinal and later pope he dismissed abusers from the clergy. One such move involved taking over the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order, after revelations that its head, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, had sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children, the Associated Press reported.

In 2010, Benedict conceded the church failed to “act quickly or firmly enough to take the necessary action” against sexual abusers in the clergy. 

He also was faulted for allowing a convicted abuser to serve in the Munich archdiocese, which he apologized for this year.

“Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life,” Benedict said in a February letter to the Archdiocese of Munich. “Even though, as I look back on my long life, I can have great reason for fear and trembling, I am nonetheless of good cheer, for I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother who himself has already suffered for my shortcomings, and is thus also my advocate, my ‘Paraclete.’ In light of the hour of judgment, the grace of being a Christian becomes all the more clear to me.”

While Benedict advanced relationships between the Vatican and the world Jewish community, he also sometimes strained ties with the Muslim world. A 2006 address at Regensburg University drew fire for centuries-old statements he quoted from a Byzantine emperor who said some of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings were “evil and inhuman.”

The Rev. Thomas Reese, who said Benedict forced him out as editor of “America,” a Jesuit magazine, wrote at Religion News Service that Benedict “treated theologians to the kind of correction he used to apply to his students. If they did not follow his view of orthodoxy, he “flunked” them, taking away their authority to teach and publish.”

Father Reese said of Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2005 election, “By electing the smartest man in the room, the cardinals had chosen someone who was not interested in listening to people who had other views.”

While Benedict traveled to the U.S. and other nations, he eventually found the demands of papal reign too much. In fall 2012, the Associated Press noted, Benedict had to deal with the “Vatileaks” scandal in which internal church documents were given to the press. He pardoned his former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted of stealing the papers.

On Feb. 11, 2013, he shocked the world by announcing his resignation and left the Vatican 18 days later. 

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited” to the demands of being the pope, he told cardinals, according to the Associated Press.

He went to Castel Gandolfo, the Italian traditional summer residence of popes, to avoid contact with the cardinals gathering to elect his successor.

Benedict’s brother, Georg, preceded him in death in 2020. His sister Maria had managed his household until her death in 1991.

More articles

Latest article