VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has died aged 95.
The Holy See Press Office announced the news this morning, with director Matteo Bruni writing: “With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican.” Bruni added that “[f]urther information will be provided as soon as possible.”
Declaration of the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni
“With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican.
Further information will be provided as soon as possible.”
— Holy See Press Office (@HolySeePress) December 31, 2022
The late Pontiff’s remains will rest at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery until January 2, at which point Benedict’s body will be on display in St. Peter’s Basilica during the days of Monday through Wednesday. Pope Francis will celebrate the funeral at 9:30 am, January 5, in the basilica.
Pope Benedict had been living in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican gardens since he resigned on February 28, 2013.
He was the last of his parents’ three children still alive, with his brother and sister Georg and Maria having died in 2020 and 1991 respectively.
Ratzinger’s ecclesial career was long and noteworthy, even from his early days as a priest. Following his ordination in 1951, Ratzinger served as advisor to Cardinal Joseph Frings during Vatican II, acting as a member of the influential and highly organized liberal lobby seeking widespread change.
He then spent five years as Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977–1982, before being moved by John Paul II to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1982. Made cardinal in 1978, Ratzinger served as Vice-Dean and later Dean of the College of Cardinals from 1998.
He was elected Pope on April 19, 2005, taking the name Benedict XVI. He is arguably more famous for making history 8 years later by being the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
One of his now more famous actions was the 2007 promulgation of his apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, outlining broad permission for priests to celebrate the ancient form of the Roman liturgy. That document has since become the target of Pope Francis’ moves against the traditional Mass, with Francis abrogating it in 2021.
Pope Benedict XVI
Following the death of John Paul II on April 2, 2005, Ratzinger offered the funeral Mass for the late pontiff in his capacity as Dean of the College of Cardinals.
He was soon elected as Pope on just the second day of the conclave, on April 19, 2005, aged 78, and took the name Benedict XVI. In his first Mass as Pope he said during his homily “pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”
Less than one month later, on May 13, 2005, he waived the customary five-year waiting period outlined in Canon Law and announced the beginning of the beatification process for his predecessor John Paul II. He canonised over 40 saints during his pontificate.
During his near 8 years as Pope, he wrote three encyclicals – Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi, and Caritas in Veritate – 13 motu proprios, 68 Apostolic Letters, and 4 apostolic exhortations. He created 90 cardinals in five consistories, and made 25 official trips outside of Italy.
In two documents released in 2007 and in 2013, he modified the rules governing the papal conclave – which had been somewhat eased by his predecessor – restoring the necessary majority of two-thirds of the papal electors and declaring excommunication the automatic punishment for breaking the oath of secrecy surrounding a conclave.
Throughout his pontificate, Benedict made a number of statements opposing abortion, which built upon his legacy as Prefect of the CDF to prevent pro-abortion politicians from receiving Holy Communion.
READ: Will Pope Francis fulfill Benedict’s legacy on abortion and Communion?
At the very outset of his pontificate, Benedict stated, in reference to abortion, that a Pope cannot “proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.” This adherence to Divine Law was shown by John Paul II, said Benedict, in his own defense of the unborn.
In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict wrote: “If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology.”
Condemning the “anti-birth mentality” he wrote that “Openness to life is at the centre of true development.”
Prior to ascending the papal throne, in 2004 Ratzinger intervened into a debate among the U.S. bishops on the issue of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians. He said in his letter titled “Worthiness to receive Holy Communion,” that a Catholic politician who would vote for “permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” after being duly instructed and warned, “must” be denied Communion.
Stance on homosexuality
While he was prefect, the CDF issued its letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” noting that a homosexual “inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”
“Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option,” added Ratzinger. “It is not.”
This position he echoed in later documents, and more notably during his 2012 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, when he appeared to denounce same-sex ‘marriage’ and criticized those who “dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being.”
After his resignation, he issued an essay in which he explicitly spoke against “homosexual cliques” in seminaries, “which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.”
READ: Benedict said what Vatican abuse summit dared not: ‘Homosexual cliques’ ruined seminaries
Two years later, he again attacked the rise of same-sex ‘marriage’ saying that “the legalization in 16 European states of ‘homosexual marriage’” has led to a “deformation of conscience” that extends beyond the secular realm, having “penetrated deeply into the world of marriage in sectors of the Catholic people.”
On February 11, 2013, Benedict shocked the world when he announced his resignation from the “Petrine office.” In a short speech delivered in Latin to the assembled cardinals, Benedict cited declining health and advancing old age as the reason for his resignation.
READ: Benedict’s renunciation and the wolves within the church
The announcement took the Church and the world by storm, with many expressing doubts as to the publicized reasons for his resignation. The text of his resignation address prompted debate as to its legitimacy which continued in many corners of the Church until his death – debate fuelled by his continued use of the white cassock, and title Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
However, Cardinals Burke and Brandmuller, along with Benedict’s secretary Archbishop Gänswein – publicly at least – downplayed suggestions that Benedict somehow remained as Pope. Burke, the former Prefect of the Holy See’s Apostolic Signatura, stated that “I believe it would be difficult to say it’s not valid.”
READ: Did Benedict really resign? Gänswein, Burke and Brandmüller weigh in
Following his announcement, Benedict resigned on February 28, staying briefly at Castel Gandolfo, before moving to his more permanent home of the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens on May, 2 2013.
He made limited public appearances after that, but Pope Francis notably brought the new cardinals to meet Benedict at every consistory, where the new cardinals would receive a blessing from Benedict. He also joined Pope Francis in the March 25, 2022 consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Following the rollout of the abortion-tainted COVID injections, Pope Benedict joined Pope Francis in taking Pfizer’s COVID jab in January 2021, at the start of the Vatican’s vaccine campaign. Gänswein later revealed in December 2021 that Benedict had taken three injections at that point.
In recent years, pictures of the emeritus pope have occasionally emerged, showing a steady decline in his health as he appeared increasingly frail.
The visit of Pope Francis and the newly created Cardinals to Pope Benedict XVI is surely the most memorable and awesome part of today’s consistory in Rome. It feels so great to see the 95-year old Pope Emeritus in such a good state.
Pope Benedict XVI is truly a treasure. pic.twitter.com/q9fwm571xH
— Ugochukwu Ugwoke, ISch (@FrUgochukwu) August 27, 2022
However, footage from even as recently as early September, showed the late Pope being taken around the Vatican gardens in a wheelchair with Gänswein and a number of others in attendance.
Early in his pontificate, the new Pope made international headlines for his September 12, 2006 address at the University of Regensburg – an address which enraged Muslims and prompted death threats against the Pope.
He quoted from a Byzantine emperor who had negatively described Muhammed, saying “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Following widespread media controversy and particular outrage from Muslims, Benedict said a few days later that the words quoted “do not in any way express my personal thought.”
On July 7, 2007 he issued his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, outlining and re-establishing the legal right of the traditional Latin Mass, writing that the traditional Mass “was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.” He described the Novus Ordo Mass as the “normal” or ordinary form of the Roman Rite, and the Latin Mass the “extraordinary form,” saying that they can be “mutually enriching.”
His accompanying letter to the motu proprio contained the line which has since been made famous by devotees of the traditional Mass: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” The document was warmly received by newly emboldened devotees of the traditional Mass, and led to a large increase in Latin Masses being offered around the world.
READ: Pope restricts ‘divisive’ Traditional Latin Mass, says 52-yr-old Novus Ordo is ‘unique expression’ of Church’s liturgy
However, the motu proprio became the target of Pope Francis’ 2021 motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes,” which both contradicted and abrogated Summorum Pontificum.
Relations with SSPX and Anglican Ordinariate
Two years later in 2009, Benedict XVI announced the revoking of the excommunications on the bishops consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in 1988 – excommunications which were always hotly contested by the bishops. The groundbreaking move, altering decades-long relations between the SSPX and the Vatican, was welcomed by SSPX superiors who then highlighted the need for “talks” to address the “doctrinal issues” between Rome and the Society.
Later that same year, Benedict then issued his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus which allowed for personal ordinariates for Anglicans to enter into the Catholic Church. The document established norms for members of both the Anglican laity and clergy to convert and then live as Catholics. It resulted in an influx of converts to the Catholic Church, with personal ordinariates being established in England, the U.S., Australia.
By 2019, members of the three ordinariates numbered in excess of 9,000, with nearly 200 priests and 94 parishes.
Legionaries of Christ and Fr. Maciel
Benedict took action against the pedophile founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, culminating with the Pope posthumously condemning Maciel in 2010.
Despite being head of the CDF, Ratzinger was reportedly prevented from investigating Maciel in 1999, due to pressure from then Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. When Maciel was honoured by John Paul II in 2004 – as the pope appeared deaf to sex abuse allegations about Maciel – Ratzinger then “took it on himself to authorize an investigation of Maciel.”
READ: Cardinal Sodano, Vatican ‘Godfather’ alleged to have covered up clerical abuse, dies aged 94
Upon becoming Pope himself, Ratzinger – via the CDF in 2006 – ordered Maciel into “a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry,” but did not impose stricter penalties. Maciel was later revealed to have been a serial abuser and to have led a “gravely scandalous” double life, fathering several children by different women and abusing boys and seminarians throughout his long clerical career.
Maciel died in 2008 and two years later the Vatican released a report into the Legionaries, stating Maciel performed “very grave and objectively immoral actions” which “in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning.” The organization, due to Maciel’s influence, required “a process of profound re-evaluation,” wrote the Vatican.
While Benedict XVI received criticism from mainstream media for what they described as inaction on priests accused of sexual abuse, the media subsequently discovered that a significant number of clerics had been laicised during his pontificate. Some 384 priests were removed from ministry between 2011 and 2012 alone, a number higher than previous years due to changes in Canon Law to make such penalties easier to enact.
Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Germany.
Joseph was the youngest of three children born to Joseph Ratzinger Sr. and Maria. His attraction to the priesthood was noted from as young an age as five, as his recently deceased brother recounted.
While liberal media attempted to portray Ratzinger as a Nazi sympathiser when reporting on him later in life, his father was actually a “bitter enemy of Nazism because he believed it was in conflict with our faith,” recalled Joseph’s brother Georg.
Joseph Ratzinger entered minor seminary in 1939, but was forcefully drafted into the Hitler Youth and German armed forces during the Second World War, before deserting later. He restarted his seminary training after the war in 1946 and was ordained in June 1951, along with his brother Georg.
Early clerical career at Vatican II
In 1953, Fr. Ratzinger received his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich, and began teaching theology four years later in Freising, Bonn, Münster, and Tübingen, before moving to the University of Regensburg in 1969.
During this period, Ratzinger was theological adviser to Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, during the entirety of Vatican II.
READ: New biography describes great influence of Joseph Ratzinger in the revolutionary upheaval of Vatican II
Historian Roberto de Mattei, in his history of the council, described Ratzinger as one of the German theologians who “distinguished themselves” as being “in the ‘marching flank’ of progressivism.” The young German priest worked closely with dissident clerics such as Frs. Karl Rahner, Bernard Häring and Yves Congar during the Council.
De Mattei noted, however, that in later years, Ratzinger rediscovered the “role of tradition and of Roman institutions.”
Archbishop of Munich and Freising
In 1977 Ratzinger was consecrated Archbishop of Munich and Freising, a position he held until 1981. He was described as being academically and theologically adept and conservative during his time there, while critics argued that he was more interested in theology than administrative details.
More recently his time leading the archdiocese has come under increased scrutiny, as allegations have been made suggesting he failed to act over child abuse cases.
READ: Anger in Germany as new report accuses Benedict XVI of mishandling sexual abuse cases
Ratzinger was accused of covering up abuse committed by Fr. Peter Hullermann, who was welcomed into the archdiocese in 1980, after having been suspended by the Diocese of Essen over abuse allegations in 1979. LifeSiteNews has provided detailed coverage of this aspect of his life (see HERE, HERE, and HERE).
Prefect of the CDF 1981–2005
After only four years in Munich, Cardinal Ratzinger was called by Pope John Paul II to become Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in November 1981, and was also made President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and of the International Theological Commission.
Over several years, Ratzinger conducted a review of the prominent liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, whose dissident views brought him under the CDF’s purview on a number of occasions. Ratzinger, who viewed such ideology as a “fundamental threat to the Faith of the Church,” eventually ordered Boff to maintain a “penitential silence” in 1985.
During his time as prefect of the CDF, Ratzinger rose through the Roman Curia, being appointed Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1998 and Dean in 2002. He was also a Member of the Council of the Second Section of the Secretariat of State, and of a number of Congregations: for the Oriental Churches, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for Catholic Education, as well as for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
Drafting of the new catechism
Cardinal Ratzinger also served as President of the Commission which drafted the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) for 6 years. While the work was an improvement on the notorious “Dutch catechism” of the 1960’s – which was one of the prompts for drawing up the CCC – some Catholic critics took issue with the new catechism, even from shortly after it was published.
The CCC does address issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which were less explicitly mentioned in previous texts. However, in a more recent analysis, the text has been accused of continuing the post-Conciliar revolution – focussing chiefly on ecumenism and undermining the traditional concept of Catholic morality.
Interestingly, Ratzinger wrote an analysis of the heterodox “Dutch catechism,” and even though he highlighted issues with it, stated that “it is not the fault of this one specific work but of theology in general.” The Dutch Catechism “reflects the image of the Church at a time of transition with all its hopes and dangers,” Ratzinger wrote in 1971.
Signing of declaration with Lutherans
Another instance of note during his tenure as Prefect was the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed with the Lutheran World Federation, which he oversaw. A statement released at the time mentioned that Lutherans and Catholics had made “a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” The ecumenical Declaration called for “continued dialogue” in order to reach “full church communion, a unity in diversity, in which remaining differences would be ‘reconciled’ and no longer have a divisive force.”
Ratzinger was a strong supporter of Vatican II’s document on the Church’s relation with non-Christian religions – Nostra Aetate – an ecumenical theme he appeared to continue during his tenure of the CDF.
Mixed messages on third Secret of Fatima
In 2000, Ratzinger’s CDF published what he described as the “entirety” of the Third Secret of Fatima, a point hotly contested by numerous Fatima scholars and clerics. More recently though, in 2016, Father Ingo Dollinger – a personal friend of Ratzinger – told LifeSite’s Maike Hickson that Ratzinger had told him in 2000 that “there is more than what we published.”
Dollinger reported that he had been told by Ratzinger that the published part of the Secret was authentic and that the unpublished part of the Secret speaks about “a bad council and a bad Mass” that was to come in the near future. The Vatican, in a rare intervention, issued a statement reportedly from then Pope Emeritus Benedict, contradicting Fr. Dollinger’s statement and declaring “the publication of the Third Secret of Fatima is complete.”
Ireland’s 2002 abortion referendum
Cardinal Ratzinger also featured behind the scenes in the 2002 abortion referendum in Ireland. In response to a government proposal advocating inclusion of abortion in the constitution, Ireland’s bishops were expected to oppose the wording of the proposal, according to Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, then president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Catholic and pro-life advocates strongly opposed the government’s move, but the bishops issued a surprise statement supporting the amendment. John Smeaton, CEO of SPUC at the time, wrote to Trujillo noting that “it is being said in Ireland that His Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger gave his support to the government’s wording of the abortion.” Trujillo did not reply to Smeaton’s request for the CDF to oppose the wording of the referendum, merely writing cryptically much later “Con i mili concliali saluti. Non ho dato resposta. Sono persone molto fideli e influentii…” “With my conciliar greetings. I did not give an answer. There are very reliable and influential people…”
Later, in a meeting with Smeaton, Trujillo said that, contrary to the Irish Bishops’ claim that Rome approved of their support of the government’s referendum wording, Ratzinger and the Archbishop of Dublin had actually “reached a conclusion opposing the Irish Government’s proposals.”
Choice of personal secretary
Former Papal Nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò told LifeSiteNews recently that Ratzinger’s secretary of 19 years while at the CDF – now Bishop Joseph Clemens – is believed to be an active homosexual during his time serving Ratzinger.
Prior to Clemens’ episcopal consecration when he left his secretary position, investigations found serious allegations he was a homosexual. Viganò told LifeSite that, at the time, Ratzinger was warned about Clemens’ homosexuality and that he nevertheless consecrated him a bishop.
Another source in Rome told LifeSite’s Dr. Maike Hickson: “The fact that Josef Clemens was and is an active homosexual is well known among us here in Rome.”
READ: Vatican sent bishop suspected of homosexuality to investigate abuse-ridden monastery
As cardinal and Pope, Benedict XVI was renown for his philosophical, theological and liturgical writings. Some of his writings of particular note include his books:
- Principles of Catholic Theology, 1982, a book in which Ratzinger “expressed his agreement with the [Second Vatican] council’s break with the position of the previous popes who condemned the errors of the French Revolution, liberalism, and Modernism.”
- Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, 1986
- Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, 1996
- The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2000
- Jesus of Nazareth, 2007
While his writings have been welcomed by many, they have also faced criticism from traditional Catholics, who have warned about the content of Ratzinger’s texts. As has been noted by academics who dared to question the status quo on Ratzinger’s writings, as cardinal, Ratzinger praised “the [Second Vatican] council’s break with the position of the previous popes who condemned the errors of the French Revolution, liberalism, and Modernism.”
In his Principles of Catholic Theology, Ratzinger praised Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes as it “serves as a countersyllabus” to the Church’s prior opposition to Liberalism, “and as such, represents, on the part of the Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789.”
Now, 17 years after he ascended to the papal throne, 45 years after he was consecrated bishop in 1977, and 71 years after he was ordained a priest in 1951, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has died on December 31, 2022.
LifeSiteNews readers are invited to pray for the repose of his soul.