The death of Pope Emeritus Benedict marks an unfamiliar juncture for modern Catholics.
He is the first pope since the Middle Ages to die after leaving office.
His death will trigger public mourning but not the election of a successor that many are used to.
Former pontiff dies after Pope Francis reveals he was ‘very ill’ – follow the latest updates
Pope Franciselected in 2013 after the resignation of Benedict XVI, will continue in his role as head of the Catholic Church.
As the world remembers the 265th Pope, he will also reflect on his time as one of the most powerful religious leaders on the planet.
Clergymen familiar with Benedict say he was known as the intellectual pope.
“Benoît was a shy person. He loved books. He loved his office, writing, thinking. Bringing beautiful German, then also in other languages, his thought. But a solitary person. He even said to people: ‘My books are true friends,” said Professor Felix Koerner SJ, theologian at Humboldt University Berlin.
In 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Benedict XVI, the first German to be elected pope in a thousand years.
Pope Benedict’s rise to the top and the controversies surrounding his reign
An uncompromising theological conservative, the cardinals chose him as “a pair of safe hands” and although he was a hero to many traditionalists, his tenure was marred by several scandals.
Son of a policeman, born in 1927, he lived as a child under the Nazi regime.
As a teenager, he served in the Hitler Youth during World War II when membership was compulsory.
While his family opposed Adolf Hitler’s regime and he did not join the Nazi Party, many in the Jewish community were worried when he was first elected.
During a trip to the Auschwitz death camp, he confronted Germany’s dark past.
“This is a historic journey as important as that of his predecessor Pope John Paul II,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center at the time. “The fact that a German pope raised in Nazi Germany and who once wore the uniform of the Hitler Youth would kneel in prayer at the site of the world’s greatest atrocity and condemn hatred is a repudiation of the anti-Semitism.”
That wasn’t the only flashpoint.
In 2006, Benedict sparked outrage across the Muslim world when, during a speech in Germany, he quoted a 14th century emperor as saying that Islam had brought evil to the world, spread by the sword.
Protest followed as the furor spread.
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He later had to issue an apology, saying he was “deeply sorry” for the reactions his speech elicited.
In 2009, the rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier outraged Jews, as well as many Catholics.
Later that year, he sparked further anger when he told reporters on his first trip to Africa that condoms were exacerbating the problem of AIDS and HIV.
Despite these missteps, among many conservative Catholics Benedict was popular.
As a cardinal responsible for enforcing doctrinal purity, Benedict received the nickname “God’s Rottweiler” for his uncompromisingly conservative views.
As pope, he was respected for his deep faith and his work as a theologian, producing 60 books between 1963 and 2013.
“His strength was clearly knowing how to express the Christian faith in a way understandable to modern human beings. That’s his message. That’s what he leaves us,” Professor Koerner said.
Child abuse scandals tainted his tenure as pope and continued to haunt him until his retirement.
While his supporters pointed out that he removed hundreds of priesthood priests for abuse, others felt he could have done more.
“The number one challenge for Pope Benedict was the abuse crisis, which was only accelerating and spreading around the world during his pontificate. And he took several steps to begin to respond to that. But his critics say that he didn’t do enough when he was pope,” said Luke Coppen, senior correspondent for Catholic website The Pillar.
In 2022, Benedict XVI admitted mistakes had been made and asked for forgiveness after an independent report in Germany alleged he failed to act in four sexual abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982.
His lawyers argued that he was not directly responsible.
In 2012, scandal once again darkened Pope Benedict XVI’s door, when his butler was found to be the source of leaked documents alleging corruption and bickering in the Vatican.
“Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate was undoubtedly marked by great corruption and dysfunction within the Vatican itself. And he struggled throughout his pontificate to deal with it.
“And a lot of people think that in fact his pontificate went off the rails, because of all the problems in the Vatican that prevented him from focusing on his preaching and teaching strengths,” Coppen said.
No doubt exhausted by the “Vatileaks” scandal and his continuing poor health, the following year Pope Benedict again stirred up controversy, this time becoming the first pope in 600 years to step down.
In his last address to the faithful, he recognizes the weight of the burden and the problems of the Church.
Then, in an extraordinary chapter for the Catholic Church, he said goodbye to the cardinals before retiring to a monastery in Vatican City.
“It was a remarkable step that he took. And there hasn’t been a pope since the Middle Ages who has resigned. So he, as a fairly conservative person, was also opening a door to a world of today where people don’t have to stay in office until they die, but where they can realize that “I’m too weak now to lead, so I have to resign”, even as pope” , explained Professor Koerner.
After retiring, Benoît chose to continue wearing white, giving interviews, and not reverting to his old name; criticism of the claimed decisions threatened unity in the church.
But the two popes’ personal relationship was strong, with Francis referring to his predecessor as a grandfather figure and asking people to pray for his friend as his health deteriorated.
“He is very sick,” Pope Francis told the faithful in December 2022, asking the Lord to comfort him until the end.
Today, Benedict XVI is remembered “as a thoughtful, reflective pope” as millions of Catholics around the world pray for the man who led their church for nearly a decade.