Benedict XVI dies: First pope to resign since Middle Ages has death announced by Vatican

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For some he was “God’s Rottweiler”, a doctrinal disciplinarian who failed to move with the times, but for others he will be remembered as a great theologian whose decision to become the first pope in 600 years to resign was the ultimate gesture of humility.

Pope Benedict leaves a sharply divided legacy with his death on December 31 at the age of 95.

Critics say that he turned a blind eye to the clerical sex abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church during his papacy and failed to tackle the Vatican’s chaotic finances and toxic infighting.

Supporters contend that he was a kind, misunderstood man who did his best to lead the Church at a time of turmoil, ideological division and declining congregations.

The two popes together in 2017

Credit: L’Osservatore Romano/L’Osservatore Romano

Bells rang out across the Vatican after Benedict, who had been Pope Emeritus since his historic resignation in 2013, died in the secluded former convent within the walls of the tiny city state where he had lived since stepping down.

“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,” the Vatican said in a statement.

His death was no surprise – on Wednesday, Pope Francis had announced at his audience in St Peter’s Square that Benedict was “very sick”.

The Vatican followed up with a statement in which it said that the former pontiff’s health had deteriorated “in the last few hours.”

Pope Benedict XVI greeting the youth in front of a huge Jesus Christ portrait in Krakow


Benedict’s body will lie in state in St Peter’s Basilica from Monday morning, the Vatican said.

His funeral will take place on January 5, with the ceremony presided over by Pope Francis.

The two men had lived as neighbours inside the Vatican for almost a decade, an unprecedented situation brought about by Benedict’s decision to become the first pontiff to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.

It was a startling, groundbreaking move, as all his predecessors over the past six centuries had died in office.

As the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square under a bright blue sky, tributes came in from around the world.

King Charles praised Benedict’s efforts to “promote peace” between Catholic and Protestant communities.

With the now King and Queen in 2009


The King acknowledged the former pontiff’s “constant efforts to promote peace” and to “strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church,” adding he received the news with “deep sadness.”

“I remember with fondness my meeting with His Holiness during my visit to the Vatican in 2009,” Charles said in a statement.

“His visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was important in strengthening the relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, described Benedict as “one of the great theologians of the 20th century,” adding that he was “through and through a gentleman.”

Rishi Sunak said he was “saddened” to learn of Benedict’s death, adding: “He was a great theologian whose UK visit in 2010 was an historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country.”

Pope Benedict XVI meets Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana in 2012


Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, said Benedict “worked with all his soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world.”

But there was a damning judgment from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, one of the most prominent campaign groups for victims of clerical sex abuse.

“In our view, the death of Pope Benedict XVI is a reminder that, much like John Paul II, Benedict was more concerned about the Church’s deteriorating image and financial flow to the hierarchy (than) grasping the concept of true apologies followed by true amends to victims of abuse.

“Any celebration that marks the life of abuse enablers like Benedict must end. It is past time for the Vatican to refocus on change: tell the truth about known abusive clergy, protect children and adults, and allow justice to those who have been hurt.

“Honouring Pope Benedict XVI now is not only wrong. It is shameful.”

Pope Benedict XVI salutes the faithful during a meeting with young Catholics in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2006

Credit: AFP

The campaign group recalled that earlier this year, a report in Germany found that when he was archbishop of Munich, Benedict had failed to take action against predatory priests in four child abuse cases.

“In our view, Pope Benedict XVI is taking decades of the church’s darkest secrets to his grave with him,” SNAP said.

Born in a small market town in Bavaria in 1927, Joseph Alois Ratzinger was six when the Nazis seized power in Germany.

In 1941, he was made to join the Hitler Youth and two years later he was drafted into the army, serving in an anti-aircraft unit. He deserted the military in the weeks before Germany’s defeat.

After the war he was ordained a priest and carved out a distinguished career as a teacher of Catholic dogma and theology at various universities.

With the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 2010


He was appointed archbishop of Munich in 1977 and then, in 1981, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A successor to the notorious Roman Inquisition, it is the Vatican department responsible for promoting theological orthodoxy.

It was there that he earned a reputation as a hardliner, known for his conservative views on issues such as homosexuality, celibacy for priests and liberation theology.

In 2005, at the age of 78, he was elected Pope, succeeding John Paul II.

But his eight-year papacy was marred by sex abuse scandals across the world, from the US to Ireland and Germany, as well as by a scandal known as Vatileaks, in which his personal butler was convicted of stealing confidential Vatican files and giving them to Italian journalists to expose corruption within the Holy See.

There were profound errors of judgment too – he infuriated Jewish groups when he rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying bishop.

He then managed to enrage Muslims with a 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman”, particularly his command to spread the faith “by the sword.”

In 2013, saying he no longer had the strength to continue, he announced in softly spoken Latin to a bemused roomful of cardinals that he had decided to resign, setting a precedent for future popes to do the same if they choose.

During his long retirement, he became a figurehead for Catholic traditionalists who were dissatisfied with Pope Francis’ relatively liberal views on sexuality and divorce, with some even refusing to acknowledge Francis as the true pope.