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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI dies at age 95

The first pope to resign in 600 years leaves a legacy of conservatism

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI greeting cardinals at St Peter’s Basilica in February 2014. Getty Images/Photo by Franco Origlia

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI dies at age 95

Pope Benedict XVI,  the first German pope in almost 1,000 years and the first pope to resign in six centuries, has died. Pope Francis announced Wednesday that his 95-year-old predecessor was “very sick” after a deterioration in his health.

The former Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger became leader of the Roman Catholic Church at age 78 and took the name Benedict XVI. The introverted Benedict contrasted with his genial, globe-trotting predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

While serving as cardinal, Ratzinger headed the office historically responsible for the Inquisition and now charged with defending Catholic doctrine. He earned the nicknames “God’s Rottweiler” and “the Panzer Cardinal.” He criticized bishops’ overreach, investigated theologically aberrant books, published letters against pro-homosexual groups, and denied that other religions could offer salvation.

In one of his last homilies before becoming pope, Ratzinger described modern life as the “dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as definitive, and whose ultimate goal is solely” to satisfy “the desires of one’s own ego.”

During Benedict’s pontificate, the Catholic church grappled with a worldwide clerical abuse scandal. Before becoming pope, he lamented, “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those … in the priesthood.”

Benedict resigned the papacy in 2013, citing his “incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me” due to health concerns and advanced age. He wanted to give his life to prayer and writing. He would, in his words, “remain hidden to the world.” In 2019, Benedict reversed course. He took sides in the growing rift between conservative and liberal cardinals in light of Pope Francis’ equivocating stance on marriage, divorce, and homosexuality. The impression of a rivalry between the two eventually became the subject of the film The Two Popes.

Pope Francis will celebrate Benedict’s funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Thursday.

Ivan Mesa

Ivan is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute midcareer course.


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