Former Pope Benedict XVI dies aged 95

German pontiff led the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013 before unprecedented retirement

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Former pope Benedict XVI has died at the age of 95, almost a decade after he stood down from the papacy.

After leading the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013, Benedict became the first pope in almost 600 years to relinquish his role.

Increasingly frail after resigning on health grounds, he continued to reside within the Vatican’s walls and was given the title of pope emeritus.

“With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9.34am in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican,” a spokesman said.

The Vatican said Benedict's body would lie in state from Monday in St Peter's Basilica and his funeral will be held on the morning of January 5.

Pope Francis will preside over the ceremony, which will take place in the square in front of the basilica.

The Vatican has elaborate rituals for what happens after a reigning pope dies but there are no publicly known ones for a former pope.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said Benedict was leading figure of the 20th century.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Pope Benedict,” he said.

“He will be remembered as one of the great theologians of the 20th century.

“I remember with particular affection the remarkable papal visit to these lands in 2010. We saw his courtesy, his gentleness, the perceptiveness of his mind and the openness of his welcome to everybody that he met.”

Leaders were swift in sending their condolences for Benedict, who was the first German pope in 1,000 years.

“We mourn the death of our Bavarian Pope,” said Markus Soeder, premier of Benedict's home state.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Twitter that the world had lost “a formative figure of the Catholic Church”.

Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni hailed Benedict as “a great man who history will not forget”, while Polish President Andrzej Duda called him “one of the greatest theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries”.

British prime minister Rishi Sunak said: “I am saddened to learn of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

“He was a great theologian whose UK visit in 2010 was a historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country.

“My thoughts are with Catholic people in the UK and around the world today.”

Pope Francis, right, greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, after a consistory to create 13 new cardinals, in November 2020 at the Vatican.  AFP

King Charles III paid tribute to Benedict and recalled visiting him at the Vatican in 2009.

“Your Holiness, I received the news of the death of your predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with deep sadness,” he said.

“I remember with fondness my meeting with His Holiness during my visit to the Vatican in 2009. His visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was important in strengthening the relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.

“I also recall his constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people, and to strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “My thoughts go out to Catholics in France and around the world, bereaved by the departure of His Holiness Benedict XVI, who worked with soul and intelligence for a more fraternal world.”

Born Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict succeeded John Paul II in 2005.

Seen as a conservative, he became a standard-bearer for traditionalists who sometimes continued to look to him after Francis took over.

Benedict's papacy took place in the shadow of an evolving sexual abuse scandal that led to questions about what senior figures had known.

In February he asked for forgiveness from victims of historic abuse after a report criticised his failure to intervene when he was Archbishop of Munich.

Updated: December 31, 2022, 11:41 PM
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