Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI dead at aged 95

Ardent conservatives in the Church looked to the former pope as their standard bearer with some even refusing to acknowledge his successor.

Former Pope Benedict has died in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, a spokesman for the Holy See has announced.

"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. Further information will be provided as soon as possible," the spokesman said in a written statement on the eve of 2023.

Pope Benedict was the first pontiff in 600 years to step down rather than rule for life.

Pope Benedict XVI has passed away, aged 95. Source: Getty
Pope Benedict XVI has passed away, aged 95. Source: Getty

Earlier this week, Pope Francis disclosed during his weekly general audience that his predecessor was "very sick", and asked for people to pray for him.

Conservatives in the Church have looked to the former pope as their standard bearer and some ultra-traditionalists even refused to acknowledge Francis as a legitimate pontiff.

They have criticised Francis for his more welcoming approach to members of the LGBTQI community and to Catholics who divorced and remarried outside the Church, saying both were undermining traditional values.

The final public farewell of Benedict XVI on February 28, 2013. Source: Getty
The final public farewell of Benedict XVI on February 28, 2013. Source: Getty

Pope Benedict's checkered history

He was the first German pope in 1000 years. He was elected on April 19, 2005, to succeed the widely popular Pope John Paul II, who reigned for 27 years. Cardinals chose him from among their number seeking continuity and what they described as "a safe pair of hands".

For nearly 25 years, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was the powerful head of the Vatican's doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An uncompromising theological conservative, Ratzinger left Germany and his post as archbishop of Munich in 1982 to head the CDF. His disciplining of Latin American priests who promoted Marxist-influenced Liberation Theology bestowed him with the sobriquet "God's Rottweiler".

View of the Vatican City and Rome from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, residence of Pope Benedict XVI after his resignation.
View of the Vatican City and Rome from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, residence of Pope Benedict XVI after his resignation. Source: Getty

Pope Benedict was considered a weak administrator who admitted a "lack of resolve in governing and decision taking", his eight-year papacy was marked by missteps and a leaks scandal. He antagonised Muslims by appearing to suggest that Islam was inherently violent. He angered Jews by rehabilitating a Holocaust denier and prompted international dismay by saying the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS only worsened the problem.

The 2012 "Vatileaks" scandal helped unravel his papacy. Paolo Gabriele, Benedict's butler, leaked secret documents that revealed corruption and feuding within the Vatican. Benedict said he stood down because bad health prevented him from bearing the full weight of the papacy.

Child abuse scandals hounded most of his papacy but he is credited with jump-starting the process to discipline or defrock predator priests after a more lax attitude under John Paul II. He ordered an inquiry into abuse in Ireland, which led to the resignation of several bishops. He disciplined the late Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Catholic order the Legionaries of Christ and one of the Church's most notorious predators. The Vatican under Pope John Paul II had failed to take action against Maciel despite overwhelming evidence of his crimes.

In 2022, an independent report in Benedict's native Germany alleged that he had failed to take action in four cases when he was Archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982. The frail former pope acknowledged in an emotional personal letter that errors had occurred and asked for forgiveness.

He will now meet his maker.

A portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is seen near the altar at the Cathedral of Regensburgt stable condition.
A portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is seen near the altar at the Cathedral of Regensburg, southern Germany on December 29, 2022. Source: Reuters

Benedict produced more than 60 books between 1963, when he was a priest, and 2013, when he resigned. "In reality I am more of a professor, a person who reflects and meditates on spiritual questions," Benedict said after his resignation.

Reuters, AAP

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