“It is with sadness that I must inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI passed away today at 9:34 AM at the Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican. We will provide more information as soon as it becomes available,” said a statement from the Director of the Holy See press office, Matteo Bruni.
The Vatican press office announced that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s body will be available for public viewing in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican from Monday to Wednesday for those who wish to pay their respects.
According to the Vatican press office, Pope Francis will preside over Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral on Thursday at 9:30 AM local time in St. Peter’s Square, in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. After the funeral mass, the coffin will be taken to the Vatican Grottoes, located beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, for burial.
Following his unexpected resignation in February 2013 at the age of 85, Benedict was rarely seen in public and only left the small sovereign state on a few occasions.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was selected as the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on April 19, 2005, at the age of 78, and took the name, Benedict XVI. According to church records, he was the first German pope in centuries, the second consecutive non-Italian pope, and the oldest pope elected since Clement XII in 1730. He was chosen in four ballots, which is considered a relatively quick process within the Church.
During his time as pope, the Catholic Church faced several major scandals. One of the most damaging was the growing number of sexual abuse cases involving the clergy, which revealed a longstanding pattern of the church failing to hold abusers and their superiors accountable for covering up their actions. Many considered these revelations to be the biggest crisis the church has faced since the Reformation.
Both as cardinal in his Vatican role and later as Pope, Benedict worked to address this increasingly public clerical sexual abuse crisis and develop a unified response from the church.
Benedict upheld the Church’s traditional conservative views on significant doctrinal issues like abortion, contraception, homosexuality, euthanasia, and the priesthood. In 2006, he delivered a speech in Regensburg, Germany that some Muslims perceived as anti-Islamic, causing anger. After that, he worked to improve relations between the two faiths.
Many Catholics held Pope Benedict XVI in high regard until his death. His successor, Pope Francis, frequently spoke fondly of him, and during a trip to Malta in April 2022, described him as a “prophet” for predicting that the Catholic Church of the future would become “smaller,” but more “spiritual, poorer, and less political.” Benedict’s white hair, gentle demeanor, and love for cats and classical music, particularly the piano, helped him win the affection of many people.
Although his papacy was relatively short, he made 24 foreign trips, visiting every continent. His first trip was in August 2005 to Cologne, in his native Germany, for the Church’s 20th World Youth Day. He also visited the U.S. in 2008, during which he addressed the U.N. General Assembly. Throughout his life, Benedict was a prolific writer, producing speeches, encyclicals, exhortations, and a three-book biography, “Jesus of Nazareth,” while serving as pope.
He beatified 322 people and canonized 45, including two Americans: Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, and Marianne Cope, who spent the last 30 years of her life caring for the sick on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.
Bavarian boyhood and WWII
Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927 in Marktl am Inn, a town in Germany’s southern region. His father was a police officer and his mother was a former cook. He had one brother and one sister.
According to his autobiography, he entered the seminary in 1939 at the age of 12, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Georg. When he was 14, Ratzinger was required to join Hitler’s Nazi youth movement. In 1943, he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit, but his unit never saw combat.
At the end of WWII in April 1945, Ratzinger deserted and returned home. In May 1945, he was detained in a U.S. prisoner of war camp as a former soldier but was released after a few months. After the war ended, when he was 18, the two brothers returned to the seminary.
Joseph and Georg were ordained as priests and celebrated their first mass on June 29, 1951.
Before becoming pope
After being ordained, Ratzinger had a successful academic career teaching dogmatic and fundamental theology at several German universities. In 1977, he was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising. Three months later, Pope Paul VI elevated him to the rank of cardinal.
Three years after his election, Pope John Paul II called Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, a position responsible for overseeing all doctrinal matters within the Church. As John Paul II’s health declined, Ratzinger took on a more prominent role at the Vatican and, in 2002, became dean of the College of Cardinals.
As dean, he played a crucial role in the period between John Paul II’s death and the election of a new pope, including summoning the conclave to elect the new pope. His long service to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican meant that he was well-known and respected by most of the cardinals who elected him. His reputation grew after he presided over John Paul’s funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
By electing Benedict, the cardinals hoped that he would clean up the Church, which was still grappling with clerical sexual abuse scandals, due to his extensive knowledge of its inner workings after 24 years in his role at the Vatican alongside his predecessor.
Pope Benedict surprised the world with his announcement of retirement, delivered in Latin to a roomful of cardinals at the Vatican on February 11, 2013. This sudden retirement caused many Vatican watchers to view him in a more modern and revolutionary light, no longer as a “conservative,” which had been his label throughout his papacy. He was succeeded by Pope Francis from Argentina, who was elected on March 13, 2013. Only six other popes are believed to have resigned in the 2,000 years of Church history, with the most recent being Gregory XII in 1415.
Some speculated that scandals had led Benedict to resign, but he stated in a 2016 interview that it was his “duty” due to his declining health and inability to keep up with the required travel in the role. Despite being frail in his later years, Benedict continued to write, read, pray, and take walks in the Vatican gardens, according to Vatican officials. He also received occasional visits from Pope Francis, cardinals, his brother, and friends. In 2020, at the age of 93 and already frail, Benedict returned to Bavaria, Germany for four days to visit his seriously ill brother Georg, with whom he had a close relationship throughout his life. This was the first time Benedict had left his residence at the Vatican, or even Italy, since his resignation over seven years earlier.
In 2022, the retired, infirm pope asked for forgiveness in a written statement for any “grievous faults” in his past handling of sex abuse cases within the Church, but denied any personal or specific wrongdoing. He was responding to a German independent report on clerical sexual abuse, released in January of the same year, which had criticized his handling of four cases while he was archbishop of Munich, Germany from 1977 to 1982. Victim groups and some experts claimed that the report’s findings had damaged the former pope’s legacy as one of the most renowned Catholic theologians, while conservative supporters, critical of Pope Francis’s style, defended his actions.
Giovanna Chirri, a Vatican reporter who scored a worldwide scoop by immediately understanding the Latin of Benedict’s surprise announcement, told ABC News that “he was not very understood as pope and was a victim of rather radicalized prejudices which made him disliked by many.” However, she added that “people’s perception of him changed with his resignation and his symbolic and dramatic temporary departure by helicopter from the Vatican on February 28, 2013, the day of his resignation.” The scene was broadcast live to millions around the world.