Pope Francis said his predecessor Pope Benedict, the 95-year-old former pontiff who resigned from his post nine years ago, was “very ill” after his health deteriorated on Wednesday.
“I want to ask you all a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict who supports the Church in his silence. He is very ill,” Francis said during his general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.
“We ask the Lord to console him and sustain him to the end in this testimony of love for the Church.
A Vatican spokesman later confirmed that “in the last hours there has been a deterioration due to (Benedict’s) advancing age.”
“The situation at the moment remains under control and constantly monitored by his doctors,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said, adding that Francis had visited his predecessor at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City after his general audience. .
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC, asked Catholics and “people of good will to pray for Benedict XVI,” in a message posted to Twitter on Wednesday.
“He served our Church in many roles – priest, scholar, diocesan bishop, curial official and pontiff. May Christ reward him for his loving service,” Gregory said of Benedict.
In 2013, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by taking the almost unprecedented step of stepping down from his post, citing “advanced age”.
Benedict XVI’s announcement marked the first resignation of a pope in nearly 600 years. The last pope to resign before his death was Gregory XII, who in 1415 resigned to end a civil war within the Catholic Church in which more than one man claimed to be pope.
In 2020, the Vatican said Benedict suffered a “painful but not serious condition”, following reports in German media that he was ill.
Two years earlier, in a rare public letter published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Benedict XVI wrote that “in the slow decline of my physical strength, inwardly I am on a pilgrimage to Home.”
Benedict XVI’s legacy has been clouded by a recent review of his tenure as archbishop of Munich and Freising, between 1977 and 1982, following the release in January of a Church-commissioned report into abuses by the Catholic clergy.
The report revealed that he had been informed of four cases of sexual abuse involving minors – including two during his stay in Munich – but had failed to act, and that he had attended a meeting about a violent priest.
Benedict later rebuffed those claims, admitting he attended the meeting but denying intentional concealment.
In a statement shared with CNN, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) spoke of the “mixed feelings” the public may have about Benedict. “Unfortunately, many victims of clergy abuse are not out of the woods in terms of healing their wounds and getting the justice they deserve,” SNAP wrote.