Tributes flow for former Pope Benedict after his death, aged 95

‘One of the great theologians of the 20th century’: Tributes to former Pope Benedict flood in from religious leaders and politicians from across the world after his death aged 95

  • Cardinal Vincent Nichols has led tributes to the late former Pope Benedict 
  • Former Pope Benedict died aged 95 on Saturday after a long battle with illness
  • Tributes are now pouring in from around the world for the ex-pontiff 

Rishi Sunak has joined religious leaders and politicians from around the world in leading tributes to former Pope Benedict, who tragically died aged 95 after long battle with illness.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said Benedict was ‘one of the great theologians of the 20th century’ in a statement released today.  

The ex-pontiff – who became first to resign in 600 years when he stood down nine years ago – died on Saturday in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, a spokesman for the Holy See said.

The Prime Minister issued a statement on Twitter recollecting on the late Pope’s visit to the UK in 2010.

‘He was a great theologian… [The] visit was an historic historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country. 

Former Pope Benedict, who died on Saturday aged 95, was the first pontiff in 600 years to resign

‘My thoughts are with Catholic people in the UK and around the world today.’

Meanwhile Cardinal Nichols said: ‘I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Pope Benedict. 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.’

‘He was through and through a gentleman, through and through a scholar, through and through a pastor, through and through a man of God – close to the Lord and always his humble servant.’

‘Pope Benedict is very much in my heart and in my prayers. I give thanks to God for his ministry and leadership.’ 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz paid tribute to former pope Benedict XVI as a ‘special church leader’ who helped shape the Catholic church.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Munich airport before his departure to Rome in 2020

Pope Francis (R) greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (L) prior to leading the Holy Mass for the Elderly in Saint Peter’s square in Vatican City, Vatican, 28 September 2014

‘As a ‘German’ pope, Benedict XVI was a special church leader for many, not only this country,’ Scholz wrote on Twitter.

Key moments in the life of Joseph Ratzinger, the former pope Benedict XVI 

April 16, 1927: Born in Marktl am Inn, a small town in Bavaria in southern Germany, and named Joseph Ratzinger.

1941: Forced to join the Hitler Youth.

1951: Ordained a priest.

1977: Named archbishop of Munich and becomes a cardinal.

1981: Heads the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The post gives him ultimate responsibility to investigate abuse cases.

April 19, 2005: Elected pope, succeeding John Paul II, and takes the name Benedict XVI.

January 2006: Publishes his first encyclical ‘God is love’, followed by ‘Saved by hope’ in November 2007 and ‘Charity in truth’ in July 2009.

September 2006: Angers the Muslim world with speech in which he appears to endorse the view that Islam is inherently violent. He apologises afterwards.

February 11, 2013: Announces his resignation, which takes effect on February 28. He is the first pope to resign since the Middle Ages. Becomes pope emeritus.

January 20, 2022: Begs forgiveness, but issues a strong denial, after a report for the Munich church authorities says he failed to stop paedophilia by priests while he was archbishop between 1977 and 1982.

December 31, 2022: Dies in the Vatican aged 95. 

‘The world has lost a formative figure of the Catholic Church, an argumentative personality and a clever theologian.’

The Vatican said his body would lie in state from Monday in St.Peter’s Basilica. 

There are painstakingly elaborate rituals for after a reigning pope dies but no publicly known ones for a former pope as there is no precedent for such a situation. 

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also hailed Benedict as ‘one of the greatest theologians of his age’.

‘In 2013 Pope Benedict took the courageous and humble step to resign the papacy, the first Pope to do so since the fifteenth century. In making this choice freely he acknowledged the human frailty that affects us all. 

‘In his retirement in Rome he has led a life of prayer and now he has gone to the eternal rest granted by the Father. In his life and ministry Pope Benedict strove to direct people to Christ. May he now rest in Christ’s peace, and rise in glory with all the Saints.’

Mr Welby noted Benedict’s long dedication to the ministry, and credited his commitment to the Church and his own faith. 

In all things, not least in his writing and his preaching, he looked to Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. It was abundantly clear that Christ was the root of his thought and the basis of his prayer. 

‘He saw many profound changes in the church and in the world. He lived through the Nazi regime in Germany and served briefly in the Second World War. As a younger theologian and priest he witnessed first-hand the discussions of the Second Vatican Council. As a professor and then as an Archbishop he lived in a divided Germany but saw too the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of his homeland.

‘Pope Benedict was one of the greatest theologians of his age – committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: ‘I am sorry to hear of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict.

‘His state visit in 2010 was a historic and joyous moment for Catholics in Britain. May he rest in peace.’

Benedict will be best remembered for shocking the world on Feb. 11, 2013, when he announced in Latin that he was resigning, telling cardinals he was too old and frail to lead an institution with more than 1.3 billion members.

It was always going to be tough following his charismatic predecessor Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, and Benedict admitted to difficulties in an emotional farewell.

‘There were moments of joy and light, but also moments that were not easy … There were moments … when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping,’ Benedict told his last general audience, a gathering of more than 150,000 people.

After the election of Pope Francis on March 13, Benedict moved into a converted convent on the Vatican grounds to spend his final years in prayer, reading, playing the piano and receiving friends. 

Former pope Benedict, 95, looks on as he receives the winners of the ‘Premio Ratzinger’ at the Vatican, December 1, 2022

For nearly 25 years, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict was the powerful head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, then known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

He was elected pope on April 19, 2005 to succeed the widely popular Pope John Paul II, who reigned for 27 years. Cardinals chose him from among their number seeking continuity and what one called ‘a safe pair of hands’.

The first German pope in 1,000 years, Benedict himself acknowledged that he was a weak administrator, saying he showed a ‘lack of resolve in governing and decision taking,’ during his eight-year papacy which was marked by missteps and a leaks scandal.

Child abuse scandals hounded most of his papacy but he is credited with jump-starting the process to discipline or defrock predator priests after a more lax attitude under his predecessor.

After his resignation, conservatives in the Church looked to the former pope as their standard bearer and some ultra-traditionalists even refused to acknowledge Francis as a legitimate pontiff.

They have criticised Francis for his more welcoming approach to members of the LGBTQ+ community and to Catholics who divorced and remarried outside the Church, saying both were undermining traditional values.

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