The 95-year-old former pope Benedict XVI passed away on December 31 at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican. He resigned in 2013, marking the first pontiff to do so in 600 years, following an eight-year tenure marred by scandal and accusations of corruption.
I regret to inform you that Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, passed away today at 9:34 in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery. More details will be given as soon as possible, the Holy See’s spokesman promised in a written statement. Beginning on January 2, 2023, his body will be on display in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Joseph Ratzinger, who was born in Germany, was a staunch conservative theologian. His treatment of Latin American priests who supported “Liberation Theology,” a socialist interpretation of Christian doctrine, earned him the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.” When describing Liberation Theology, Ratzinger once said, “This conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the church’s catechism.”
Ratzinger had advanced in the Catholic Church, and in 1977 he was named Munich’s archbishop. He left Germany in 1982 to work for the Vatican directly as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s leader (CDF). The CDF was established in the 16th century to protect the Catholic Church from heresy and spread Roman Catholic doctrine. It is one of the oldest and most significant departments in the Vatican. He developed into one of the most influential conservative voices in the Vatican during his nearly 25-year tenure at the CDF.
Ratzinger succeeded the adored John Paul II, who had ruled for 27 years, in 2005 as the first German Pope in a millennium. He adopted the name Benedict, and among Vatican insiders, he was regarded as a “safe pair of hands.”
But Benedict’s rule was very different from that of his predecessor. He offended large segments of the global populace with his words. For instance, when he seemed to imply that Islam is inherently violent, he infuriated Muslims. Additionally, he incited outrage when it appeared that the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS “only made matters worse.”
In a similar vein, his behaviour did not endear him to many people. In 2009, he revoked Bishop Richard Williamson’s excommunication. Williamson had a history of outspoken Holocaust denial, even claiming that concentration camps did not contain gas chambers. Pope-Jewish relations in the 21st century reached a new low as a result of Benedict’s rehabilitation of the disgraced bishop, which sparked a loud uproar.
The “Vatileaks” scandal from 2012 played a key role in ending his papacy. Secret documents that were leaked by Benedict’s butler Paolo Gabriele showed conflict and corruption within the Vatican. While Benedict claimed he resigned because of his deteriorating health, scandals were mounting under his leadership, and observers speculated that he may have resigned to deflect attention from the papacy. Pope Francis, a self-described liberal, took over after him and was given the task of bringing the Church into compliance with modern society.
However, the conservative Catholic Church fringes continued to fervently support Benedict, with some ultra-traditionalists even refusing to recognise Francis as the legitimate pontiff.
Pope Benedict’s tenure was marred by clergy scandals involving child abuse. Acting against accused Popes had been resisted under Pope John Paul II. But as more and more cases were made public, the pressure increased. Observers claim that Benedict was much more active than his predecessor in starting the procedure to defrock and discipline predator priests. Notably, he censured Father Marcial Maciel, one of the Church’s most notorious predators, and commissioned an investigation into child abuse in Ireland.