The Vatican said that retired Pope Benedict XVI, who presided over the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013 before stepping down as the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years, passed away early on Saturday.
The 95-year-old pope was now retired. The reason of death wasn’t disclosed in a statement by Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni.
In a statement to reporters, Mr. Bruni said that earlier that day Benedict’s health had declined “because to advancing age.” Pope Francis stated to visitors on Wednesday at the Vatican that his predecessor was “extremely unwell.”
The Vatican announced that Pope Benedict’s remains will lie in state in St. Peter’s Basilica starting on Monday morning. Pope Francis will preside over the funeral, which will be held on January 5 in St. Peter’s Square, according to Mr. Bruni.
The German pontiff, an introverted academic who always seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight, gained notoriety as a controversial defender of traditional beliefs and practices decades before he was elected pope. Under Pope St. John Paul II, he oversaw tougher punishment for abusive clergy but was accused in 2022 of covering up abuse at the beginning of his career as a bishop.
Benedict argued for the compatibility of a transcendent faith in Jesus Christ with human reason in his roles as a prolific writer on theology, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, and ultimately as the head of the church. He also argued for the continuity with tradition of the modernizing changes in the church that followed the Second Vatican Council of 1962–65.
He was a significant advisor during Vatican II as Father Joseph Ratzinger, and with his passing, the last significant theologian is no longer connected to that significant moment in 20th-century church history. Later on though, he turned against progressives for misinterpreting the council as a departure from established doctrine and practice.
He upheld challenged Catholic doctrines on sexuality and bioethics as a cardinal and pope, and he censured theologians who attempted to make the Gospels and Marxism compatible. Benedict liberalized the use of the old Latin Mass by removing post-Vatican II limitations in 2007. His successor mainly reversed this liberalization in 2021.
One of his main themes was the need to defend a religion based on unchanging truths against what he called the modern “dictatorship of relativism” in a sermon on the eve of his election to the papacy.
Benedict’s eminence and the hotly disputed arguments in which he participated prominently were mirrored in the responses to his death in his native Germany.
In 2020, Benedict co-authored a book defending the custom of clergy celibacy, which generated criticisms that he was attempting to sway his successor, who at the time was debating whether to relax the rule. Benedict requested that his name be taken from the list of co-authors for the book.
Some regarded the symbolism of a retired pope still being addressed as “His Holiness” and appearing at the Vatican while donning the white papal cassock and skullcap—despite giving up the shoulder cape used by the pontiff in office—to be quite perplexing. Conservative and progressive opponents of the arrangement demanded new regulations to control such a circumstance.
Pope Francis said earlier this year that if he were to retire, he would handle things differently in an interview with Televisa in Spanish. Instead of using Benedict’s title of pope emeritus, he declared that he would consider himself “the emeritus bishop of Rome” and that he would not reside in the Vatican but rather, possibly, in Rome.
Additionally, Pope Francis called for tighter regulation of the procedures for papal retirement.
Because [Benedict] is a pious and discreet guy, and he handled it well, the first experience went fairly well, according to Pope Francis. “However, going forward, things ought to be clarified or made more apparent.”
The passing of the retiring pope may have made it simpler for his successor to enact these rules.
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