VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict Emeritus Benedict XVI, a German theologian who became the first pontiff to resign in more than 600 years, died Saturday, the Vatican announced. He was 95.
“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,” Matthew Bruni, the director of the press office of the Holy See, said in a statement. “Further information will be provided as soon as possible.”
The Vatican said that Benedict’s body would lie in state at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome “to be greeted by the faithful,” The New York Times reported. Officials added that Pope Francis will celebrate the funeral Mass for Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square on Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
Pope Francis praised his predecessor’s “kindness” in his first public comments since Benedict’s death, the news organization reported.
Speaking during a New Year’s Eve vigil, Francis thanked Benedict for “his testimony of faith and prayer, especially in these final years of retired life.”
Born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in Bavaria on April 16, 1927, was a cardinal and the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office when he was elected on April 19, 2005, to succeed Pope John Paul II as the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Benedict stunned the Roman Catholic church when he announced his resignation as pontiff during a routine ceremony with Vatican cardinals on Feb. 11, 2013, The Washington Post reported. Benedict told the cardinals he had made “a decision of great importance for the life of the church.”
Citing his health, Benedict became the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, according to the Post. Gregory XII resigned to end a civil war within the church. His resignation enabled a special council to excommunicate the pope based in Avignon, France, and start fresh with a new, single leader of the church, according to the newspaper.
Benedict was ordained a priest in 1951 and was named archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, the same year that he became a cardinal, the Times reported. In 1981, John Paul II called the cardinal to Rome, where he became the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office responsible for defending church orthodoxy, according to the newspaper.
He led the office for nearly 25 years.
Benedict once said that being elected pope felt like a “guillotine” had come down on him, the AP reported.
Some of Benedict’s decisions, while forceful, were also decisive. He steered the Catholic Church on a more conservative path, relaxing restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, according to the AP.
In 2008, Benedict changed a Latin prayer for Good Friday services, deleting a reference to Jews and their “blindness” but nevertheless calling for them to accept Jesus. The following year, he lifted the excommunications of four bishops, including a Holocaust denier.
Documents leaked by Benedict’s former butler to Italian reporters would reveal corruption within the Roman Curia, the Post reported. The Vatican bank was criticized for its operations, which led some foreign financial institutions to temporarily suspend its credit transactions.
Benedict’s reign will also be remembered for revelations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests -- which first emerged during John Paul II’s papacy -- and efforts by church officials to cover it up, the Post reported.
“We can reveal the face of the church and how this face is, at times, disfigured,” Benedict said in his final homily as pope. “I am thinking in particular of the sins against the unity of the church, of the divisions in the body of the church.”
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