Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI dies at 95
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the timid German theologian who tried to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe but who will forever be remembered as the first pontiff in 600 years to step down from his post, died on Saturday. He was 95 years old.
Benedict stunned the world on February 11, 2013, when he announced, in his typical soft-spoken Latin, that he no longer had the strength to lead the 1.2 billion strong Catholic Church that he had ruled for eight years through scandal and indifference.
His dramatic decision paved the way for the conclave which elected Francis as his successor. The two popes then lived side by side in the Vatican gardens, an unprecedented arrangement that set the stage for future « popes emeritus » to do the same.
And it set the stage for a reigning pope to celebrate a pensioner’s funeral mass. The Vatican announced that Francis would preside over the funeral Thursday in St. Peter’s Square.
A statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Saturday morning: « With sadness, I inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 a.m. at the Mater Ecclesia monastery in the Vatican. »
Former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger never wanted to be pope, planning at 78 to spend his final years writing in the « peace and quiet » of his native Bavaria.
Instead, he was forced to follow in the footsteps of beloved St. John Paul II and lead the church through the fallout of the clerical sex abuse scandal, and then a second scandal that erupted when his own butler stole his personal papers and gave them to a reporter.
Being elected pope, he once said, felt like a “guillotine” had fallen upon him.
Nonetheless, he set to work with a unique vision to revive faith in a world that, he frequently lamented, seemed to think it could do without God.
“In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God,” he told 1 million young people gathered in a vast area for his first trip abroad as pope. at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. « It seems like everything would be the same even without him. »
Through decisive, often controversial gestures, he tried to remind Europe of its Christian heritage. And he set the Catholic Church on a conservative, traditional path that has often alienated progressives. He eased restrictions on celebrating the Old Mass in Latin and launched a crackdown on American nuns, insisting that the church remain true to its doctrine and traditions in the face of a changing world. It was a path that in many ways was reversed by his successor, Francis, whose priorities of mercy over morality alienated the traditionalists who had been so spoiled by Benedict.
Benoît’s style could not be more different from that of Jean-Paul or François. Not a globe-trotting media darling or a populist, Benedict was a teacher, theologian and academic at heart: calm and pensive with a fierce wit. He spoke in paragraphs, not in sound bites. He had a soft spot for the orange Fanta as well as his beloved library; when he was elected pope, he had his entire study moved – as it was – from his apartment just outside the Vatican walls in the Apostolic Palace. The books followed him to his retirement home.
Like his predecessor John Paul, Benedict XVI has made Jewish outreach a hallmark of his papacy.
In his 2011 book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Benedict broadly exonerates the Jewish people for the death of Christ.
Yet Benedict XVI also offended some Jews who were furious at his consistent defense and promotion to sainthood of Pope Pius XII, the World War II pope accused by some of not speaking out enough about the Holocaust.
Benedict’s relations with the Muslim world were also mixed. He angered Muslims with a speech in September 2006 – five years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States – in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who called some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad « evil and inhumane », in especially his command to spread the faith « by the sword ».
But Benedict’s legacy was irreversibly colored by the 2010 global eruption of the sex abuse scandal, even though as cardinal he was responsible for unseating the Vatican on the issue.
Benedict had first-hand knowledge of the magnitude of the problem, since his former office — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he had headed since 1982 — was tasked with handling abuse cases.
And once he became pope, Benedict XVI essentially overthrew his beloved predecessor, John Paul, by taking action against the most notorious pedophile priest of the 20th century, the Reverend Marcial Maciel.
In October 2012, Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted of aggravated robbery after Vatican police found a huge stash of papal documents in his apartment.
With the ‘Vatileaks’ scandal resolved, including with a papal pardon from Gabriele, Benedict felt free to make the extraordinary decision he had previously mentioned: he announced that he would resign rather than die in office. as all his predecessors had done for almost six centuries.
« After examining my conscience several times before God, I have come to the certainty that my strength due to advanced age is no longer suited » to the demands of being pope, he told the cardinals.
He made his last public appearances in February 2013, then boarded a helicopter to fly to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, to attend the conclave privately. Benedict then largely kept his word that he would live a life of prayer in retirement.
Born April 16, 1927, in Marktl Am Inn, Bavaria, Benedict wrote in his memoirs of being drafted into the Nazi youth movement against his will in 1941, when he was 14 and membership was compulsory. He deserted the German army in April 1945, in the last days of the war.
Benedict was ordained, along with his brother Georg, in 1951. After spending several years teaching theology in Germany, he was appointed bishop of Munich in 1977 and elevated to the rank of cardinal three months later by Pope Paul VI.
His brother Georg was a frequent visitor to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo until his death in 2020. His sister died years before. His « papal family » consisted of Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, his longtime private secretary who was always at his side, another secretary, and consecrated women who looked after the papal apartment.