The Vatican announced the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on December 31. Catholics around the world have been praying for the pope’s health since Pope Francis requested prayer for Benedict at the conclusion of his general audience on Wednesday, December 28.
“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,” the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni said.
Pope Benedict XVI is loved by many Catholics and non-Catholics across the globe. His legacy, however, has been a combination of encouragement, ecclesiastical ministry, efforts to strengthen the church, as well as scandals and criticism.
Pope Benedict XVI was 95 years old. He was born on April 16, 1927, as Joseph Alois Ratzinger, in Martkl, located in Germany. He was the youngest of three children. His brother, Georg, was also a priest. His siblings, George and Maria Ratzinger, are both deceased. His father was a police officer and his mother was a cook. He was 6-years old when the Nazis came into power in Germany and his parents were strongly opposed to the regime. He entered seminary in 1939, but two years later he was forced to join the Hitler Youth and in 1943 he was drafted into the German military. He was forced to serve in an antiaircraft unit as well as a unit which set tank traps. He was captured that same year by American forces and held as a prisoner following his desertion from the German military.
He continued his education after the war and was ordained a priest in 1951. He wrote several theological works, which paved the path for him to serve as expert assistant at the Second Vatican Council to the archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Frings. In 1977 he was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising and was elevated to cardinal by Pope Paul VI. In 1981 he was made prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II.
He was elected pope on April 19, 2005, and took the name Benedict in honor of St. Benedict of Nursia. St. Benedict founded the Benedictine order and is the patron saint of the West. Pope Benedict XVI held the position as pope until February 2013, when he resigned, citing his advanced age and declining health. During his pontificate, he visited 24 countries and six continents.
There are varied views of Benedict which range from the pontiff being gentle and holy to a man who was harsh and a dogmatic inquisitor.
He stepped down as pope in February 2013 following an eight-year papacy. His resignation made him the first pope in 600 years to resign. He is respected as a scholar and a powerful advocate of the church’s core beliefs on social relief, humanitarianism, and evangelization. As pope, he also focused on attempts to preserve orthodoxy within the church. In his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, he explained what being a true Christian necessitated. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
He is most recognized for his Encyclical Ubicumque Et Semper, referred to as the New Evangelization. In this Encyclical, he focused on the church’s mission to “proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He recognized the challenge of this time and culture is the abandonment of faith by many. He attributed the declining faith to social changes such as changes in science and technology. He said, “the expanding possibilities with regard to life and individual freedom, the profound changes in the economic sphere, and the mixing of races and cultures caused by global-scale migration and an increasing interdependence of peoples.”
The New Evangelization has often been credited as being the most important item in Pope Benedict’s legacy. He formed the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization with a focus on territories which were once Christian but have abandoned the faith. The council was charged with considering these regions as mission territory and to begin evangelical efforts in these areas.
On the other hand, he has been criticized for the mixed messages his pontificate exhibited regarding the damaging sex abuse scandals within the church. Benedict was rarely given credit for all the progress he made in addressing and ending the child sex abuse crisis within the church. He made greater progress than his predecessor St. Pope John Paul II, yet the world tries to hang the blame on Benedict’s doorstep.
The sex abuse scandals were not the only problem which appeared to damage his pontifical legacy. He struggled throughout his papacy with maintaining relationships with other religions. He damaged the relationship the Church held with Jews due to his decision to lift the excommunication of Holocaust denier and renegade Richard Williamson in 2009. Williamson had publicly denied the existence of gas chambers and claimed there were no Jews killed in gas chambers. Williamson endorsed anti-Semitic forgery and made false claims the Jews were attempting world domination.
He also created rifts with the Islamic faith following his quote in 2006 during the Regensburg lecture where he misquoted the Qur’an and alluded to claims that Muslims force conversions when they are in power. The statement offended many Muslims and damaged the Vatican’s relationship with the faith.
Perhaps the greatest stain on his legacy, on the other hand, comes as a result of the allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Benedict promised early in his pontificate to bring a reform to the way the Vatican addressed such claims and even apologized to the victims. Critics claim the pope never did enough to reform the procedures of the Church and accused Benedict of ignoring the seriousness of the situation and attempts to coverup the actions of guilty priests. Supporters of Benedict disagree with the criticism and have declared the pope did set up procedures to get rid of guilty priests but admit it may have taken him longer than many people would have liked for it to take.
His relationship with the Jewish community appears to have been restored, as evidenced by Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome, tweeting (following the news of Benedict’s illness) that he was “concerned about the news about the health of Pope Emeritus Benedict. I join in prayers that he may overcome the ordeal and recover soon.”
Benedict was a gentle soul and holy man who loved cats, classical piano, and beer. He loved people and the church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will continue to be loved and admired by Catholics around the world. He was a great intercessor for the needs of the Church and Catholics while on earth and he will remain an amazing intercessor for the Church in heaven.