Former Pope Benedict XVI dies at age 95

FILE - Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful during an audience at the Vatican on June 30, 2007, as he invited all Roman Catholics in China to unite under his jurisdiction and urged Beijing to restore diplomatic ties and permit religious freedom. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
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LONDON — The Vatican announced Saturday that the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has died at age 95.

“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,” a Vatican statement read.

During his weekly general audience in late December, Francis revealed that Benedict was “very sick” and asked “the Lord to comfort him and support him … until the end.” The following day, a Vatican spokesman said he was “stable.”

Benedict stunned Catholics around the world when he announced his abdication from the papacy in 2013. It was the first time in 598 years that a pope had stood down — the last being in 1415 when Pope Gregory XII resigned just 10 years into his papacy in a bid to heal a schism that had formed in the church.

People pause in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who will be remembered as the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died, the Vatican announced Saturday. He was 95. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People pause in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican on Saturday. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

The surprise retirement announcement nearly a decade ago occurred during a routine meeting at which Benedict was to discuss the possible canonization of three people. He cited “an advanced age” as the reason for his retirement. “The pope took us by surprise,” Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican, said at the time. The former pope has since been living inside the walls of the Vatican, an independent city-state located in Rome. Benedict chose not to revert back to his actual name, Joseph Ratzinger, but instead chose to be called Pope Emeritus.

In 2005, the former Cardinal Ratzinger was elected by his fellow cardinals to succeed Pope John Paul II. He chose the name Benedict XVI for his tenure.

Despite having only served eight years as pope, Benedict’s time was marred by multiple scandals including his involvement in the cover-up of widespread child sex abuse by priests within the Catholic Church and the revelation of his time spent in the Hitler Youth while he was a child.

Other controversies included Benedict's statement that condoms would aggravate Africa’s HIV and AIDS epidemic and his lifting of the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops — including one Holocaust denier. Benedict would later backtrack on his comments on the use of condoms and say they are acceptable in “certain cases.”

Pope Benedict XVI rides in the popemobile.
Pope Benedict XVI rides in the popemobile as he leaves Fatima's Sanctuary in Portugal in 2010. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Before being elected pope, Benedict was put in charge of dealing with the alleged abuse by priests. He had denied that there was a cover-up. But in 2010, he admitted that the Catholic Church did not act “quickly or firmly enough.”

He would go on to break his post-retirement silence in September 2013 by reiterating that he never tried to cover up any “moral abuse of minors by priests. I can only, as you know, acknowledge it with profound consternation,” he wrote in a lengthy letter.

In January 2022, a German investigation found that Benedict failed to act against four priests who were accused of child sexual abuse while he was archbishop of Munich in 1986. “During [Benedict’s] time in office there were abuse cases happening,” said Martin Pusch, of the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl. “In those cases, those priests continued their work without sanctions. The church did not do anything.”