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Retired Pope Benedict XVI dies at 95



Updated December 31, 2022 at 6:40 am ET

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ROME — Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign since the 15th century, died Saturday in Vatican City at age 95.

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For several days, he had been experiencing deteriorating health due to his advanced age, the Vatican press office said, and Pope Francis publicly shared the news of Benedict XVI’s worsening condition earlier this week.

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Pope Francis will preside over Benedict’s funeral on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican said.

Born on April 16, 1927 in Bavaria, Germany, Joseph Ratzinger was a theologian by training. Following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Ratzinger was chosen as his successor after serving for a quarter century as the Vatican’s top executor of orthodoxy. He was the first German Pope since the 11th century.

/ AFP via Getty Images


AFP via Getty Images

German priest Joseph Ratzinger (center) prays during an open-air mass in the summer of 1952 near Ruhpolding in the German state of Bavaria.

During his nearly eight years as pope, Benedict is remembered as one of the most conservative pontiffs of recent times and a church leader who, by choosing to retire, charted a new course for the papacy.

On February 11, 2013, Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing: “After repeatedly examining my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strength, due to advanced age, is no longer adequate for proper exercise. of the Petrine Ministry”.

Gerard O’Connell, Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit magazine America, said it was after a fall during his visit to Mexico in 2012 that Benedict understood he could no longer fulfill his papal duties.

“Here is a man who prayerfully discerned his own limits and said, ‘I can go this far, I don’t have the physical strength to go further, and that’s why I quit,’ as he explains in that book of interviews,” O’ said. Connell, referring to the Last Testament: in his own words. “He had a sense of peace because he had made the right decision.”

But as pope, many critics believed that he had made several bad decisions.

Crisis of a papacy

Benedict’s efforts to revive Christianity in secularized Europe, which he said was threatened by a “dictatorship of relativism,” were overshadowed by the many crises of his papacy.

He offended Jews when he lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop; he was severely reprimanded by European politicians for his comments that condoms help spread AIDS; Power struggles in the Vatican demonstrated that he had little control over the church bureaucracy; and his papacy was dogged by clerical sex abuse scandals.

Osservatore Romano/AFP via Getty Images


AFP via Getty Images

Benedict addresses members of the American Jewish Congress in 2009 at the Vatican. The pope said it was “intolerable” to deny the Holocaust as he grappled with controversy over a bishop who questioned the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews.

Benedict was not in favor of interfaith encounters with Muslims, and his conviction that Islam could not be on an equal footing with Catholicism led to one of the worst crises of his papacy. In a September 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg, Benedict quoted a comment made by a 14th-century emperor who mocked Islam: “Show me what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find evil and inhuman things, as his commanded.” scatter by the sword the faith that he preached”.

The quote sparked Muslim fury around the world. Tensions began to ease a few months after Benedict visited Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and prayed silently alongside a Muslim cleric.

Drafted into Hitler’s army

Ratzinger was born in the interwar period in the Bavarian town of Marktl am Inn, the youngest of three children.

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AFP via Getty Images

Ratzinger was an adjutant to the German air force in 1943.

He was 6 years old when Adolf Hitler seized power in 1933. His parents, a police officer and a hotel cook, were staunch Catholics who opposed the Nazi regime, according to historian Michael Frassetto.

Ratzinger entered a seminary when he was 12 years old. At the height of World War II, when he was a teenager, he joined the Hitler Youth, which was mandatory. In 1943, he was drafted into the army and briefly served in an anti-aircraft battalion.

Throughout his life, he rarely spoke publicly about his experiences under Nazism or the Catholic Church’s relations with the Third Reich.

catholic primacy

Ratzinger was ordained a priest in 1951 and began his career teaching theology. In 1962, he was appointed theological adviser to the Second Vatican Council, whose reforms brought the Catholic Church into the 20th century.

But by the late 1960s, Ratzinger believed that the spirit of Vatican II had been betrayed.

Dieter Endlicher/AP


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With the spiers of the Munich cathedral in the background, Cardinal Ratzinger bids farewell to Bavarian believers in 1982. Ratzinger left Germany to head the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Munich in 1977.

Four years later, he was summoned to Rome by Pope John Paul II to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s theological watchdog once known as the Roman Inquisition. He held the position for 24 years. During that time, one of its most controversial documents was “Dominus Jesus,” which emphasized the primacy of the Catholic Church and labeled non-Christian religions “gravely deficient,” potentially undermining Vatican II’s achievements toward dialogue between Catholicism and other denominations and religions. .

As the Vatican’s doctrinal guardian, Ratzinger became a polarizing figure, disciplining dissenting theologians and defending the church’s opposition to women priests and married priests, as well as same-sex marriage. In a 1986 paper, he called homosexuality an “objective disorder and an intrinsic moral evil.”

As pope, Benedict continued to hold the line against divorce, birth control, abortion, and stem cell research.

But Benedict backed down at times. In 2008, his reinstatement of the traditional Latin Mass, with its Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews, drew strong criticism from Jewish leaders, forcing the Vatican to change the wording of the prayer.

A few months later, Jewish-Catholic relations were again compromised after Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of a renegade bishop, Richard Williamson, who had publicly questioned the Holocaust. Following worldwide outrage, Benedict XVI wrote a letter to his bishops acknowledging that it was an “unforeseen mishap.” He said he had no prior knowledge that Williamson was a Holocaust denier despite the bishop’s comments circulating widely online. The Pope added that he has learned to pay more attention to the Internet to obtain information.

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Benedict addresses the faithful for the last time upon his arrival at Castel Gandolfo in 2013.

However, Benedict again sparked widespread anger when he announced that he would put the World War II-era pope on the path to sainthood for what Benedict called his “heroic virtues.” It is considered that Pope Pius XII did not speak out strongly while the Holocaust was taking place. The sanctification process is still underway.

legacy of giving up

Church historian Massimo Faggioli said he believes that by approaching the world from a purely intellectual and theological perspective, Benedict’s papacy was ultimately a failure. “Because to be Pope you are not the chief theologian, you are the chief pastor. That is the magic of the papal office,” Faggioli said.

However, the historian said that the true legacy of Benedict XVI’s papacy was how he ended it. “Benedict XVI’s decision to resign was a very radical interpretation of Vatican II,” Faggioli said. “Going beyond the Vatican II letter, that was revolutionary.”

O’Connell of America magazine said that in Benedict’s final remarks to the cardinals before leaving the Vatican, he said his successor was among them. “He promised that he would give loyalty and obedience to his successor, and he honored that commitment completely, absolutely,” the correspondent said.

After Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, Benedict lived quietly in a residence on Vatican grounds.

Despite pressure from many church conservatives to intervene against his successor’s reforms, the emeritus pope rarely appeared in public or commented on his successor.

But in an authorized biography published in Germany in May, Benedict rejected accusations by some Vatican observers that he was undermining Francis’s papacy behind the scenes. He was quoted as saying that he had been the victim of an “evil distortion of reality”.

In 2022, a report by the German Catholic Church criticized Benedict XVI’s handling of four sexual abuse cases in Munich four decades earlier. The emeritus pope acknowledged that abuses and mistakes were made when he was Archbishop of Munich. But he denied the allegations of wrongdoing.

The response, many Vatican watchers say, would tarnish his legacy as a person, theologian and leader of the Catholic Church, particularly since he did not express empathy for the victims.

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