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Former Pope Benedict XVI dies at the age of 95

Profile photo: Pope Benedict XVI arrives in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican on October 19, 2014
Profile photo: Pope Benedict XVI arrives in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on October 19, 2014

WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict XVI died Saturday at the age of 95. He headed the Catholic Church for nearly 8 years before becoming the first pope to step down in six centuries.

Before the death of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis called for prayers for his predecessor. At that time, the Vatican announced that Benedict XVI had deteriorated in health due to his “advanced age.”

In 2013, Benedict XVI announced his abdication, saying he no longer had enough physical and mental strength to become pope.

After his abdication, he lived in a former monastery in the Vatican, rarely made public appearances, and devoted his later years to prayer and meditation.

In a 2018 letter to Italy’s Corriere Della Sera, Benedict described “the slow shrinking of my physical strength,” calling him “on the inner pilgrimage back home.”

Born in 1927 in Marktel, Germany, as Joseph Ratzinger, he spent his youth in southeastern Germany, near the Austrian border. A year before the outbreak of World War II, he attended a seminary and was eventually drafted into the German army, serving in the air defense and later deserting at the end of the war.

He returned to his theological studies and became an ordained pastor in 1951. After many years of teaching and serving as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council, in 1977 Pope Paul VI appointed Ratzinger Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and later as Cardinal.

Ratzinger served for more than 20 years as a minister in the powerful Ministry of the Doctrine of the Faith, and he was a close friend and adviser to Pope John Paul II.

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During Benedict’s papacy, there were child sexual abuse scandals involving clergy during John Paul II’s papal tenure. His response included expelling the priest, apologizing to the victim, and meeting with the victim.

A January 2022 report accused him of failing to act in four cases during his tenure as archbishop of Munich. In a letter released by the Vatican, Benedict XVI acknowledged “mistakes” in handling sexual assault allegations and said he could only “express deep shame, deep grief and heartfelt plea for forgiveness to all victims of sexual assault.”

In 2006, Benedict XVI gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor in what some Muslims saw as an attack on Islam and subsequently sparked protests in the Muslim world.

In 2013, his butler was convicted of taking sensitive confidential documents from the pope’s office and leaking them to journalists.

When Benedict retired, Brennan Pursell, one of Benedict’s biographers, told the media that the first thing people remembered was his teacher.

“His legacy as pope will be passed down in his writings, especially his catechism (religious / belief guidance), his encyclical (papal letters), his various documents,” he said. “For those who only read online, they can feel the great contribution that this person has made to the teaching of the church.”

Father Thomas Reece of Georgetown University said Benedict “had very strong ideas about church doctrine, orthodoxy, and church tradition.” He is not afraid to deal with priests, religious figures, and theologians who disagree with him, basically trying to silence them. ”

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