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Benedict XVI 1927-2022 | The former pope who left his mark on the Church



Brilliant theologian and fervent guardian of dogma, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose resignation in 2013 took the whole world by surprise, died on Saturday at the age of 95.

” [Le pape émérite Benoît XVI] recognized that he did not have the charisma of his predecessor [le pape Jean-Paul II] or his successor [le pape François], but he was more comfortable in intimate encounters, says Gilles Routhier, theologian at Laval University, in an interview. He seduced thanks to the finesse of his mind and his intellectual power. It was a rigorous intelligence. »

Benedict XVI, who led the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013, was the first German pope in modern history, and the first to renounce his title in six centuries, taking the world by surprise.

His health was declining. Already on Thursday, Pope Francis had invited his faithful to pray for Benedict XVI who was “seriously ill”. He died on Saturday morning at the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where he had retired after his renunciation.


Pope Francis (left) greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in March 2013.

During Vespers celebrated on Saturday evening in Saint-Pierre, Pope Francis greeted a “person so noble, so kind”. The body of Joseph Ratzinger – the name of the man before he became pope – will be exhibited from Monday morning under the gilding of Saint Peter’s Basilica to allow the faithful to pay homage to him.

The funeral ceremony will be held Thursday morning in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, under the presidency of Pope Francis, an unprecedented event in the two thousand year history of the Catholic Church. Tens of thousands of faithful are expected for the occasion, in addition to heads of state and members of government.

International reactions

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres hailed Benedict XVI’s commitment “to non-violence and peace”.

For US President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, “we will remember [de Benoît XVI] as a renowned theologian, guided by his principles and his faith, and whose whole life was devoted to his devotion to the Church”.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter that “His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has dedicated his life to the service of his faith. He was an accomplished theologian and scholar, and he was an inspiration to millions. My thoughts are with Catholics and all mourners. »

A transitional pope

According to Mr. Routhier, the relatively brief pontificate of Benedict XVI (eight years) “allowed a transition between the long pontificate of John Paul II and the pontificate of Francis. »

The clergyman’s legacy is, however, in his view much greater. “Benedict XVI marked the Church, first, as a theologian, until the 1970s, maintains Mr. Routhier. Through his publications – an important contribution – and also through his influence, he has trained generations. It’s a part of his life that we know little about, because for most people, his life boils down to eight years of pontificate. But that wouldn’t do the man justice. »

Born in 1927, Joseph Ratzinger taught theology for 25 years in Germany before being appointed Archbishop of Munich. This period also caught up with him in 2022 when a report published in Germany questioned his handling of sexual violence at that time. He then came out of his silence to ask for “pardon”, but assured that he had never covered up a child criminal.


Pope Benedict XVI, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, appears on a balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican after being elected by the conclave of cardinals, April 19, 2005.

He then became the strict guardian of Church dogma for another quarter of a century in Rome at the head of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, before succeeding John Paul II as pope.

“He himself admitted that it was a burden, a burden [d’être pape]. That he did not necessarily feel like the man for the job, explains Mr. Routhier. He was aware of his limits, and he exercised out of duty. »

Last pope to have participated in the Second Vatican Council, he however defended a conservative line at the head of the Church, in particular on abortion, homosexuality or euthanasia. His statements have sometimes shocked, among other things on Islam or the use of condoms against HIV.

His pontificate was also marked in 2012 by the leak of confidential documents (“Vatileaks”) orchestrated by his butler. The scandal had exposed a Roman Curia (Vatican government) plagued by intrigue and devoid of financial rigour. However, he always assured that his resignation was related to his personal health and not to Church business.

Flags at half mast

On Saturday, the faithful present in Saint-Pierre square told Agence France-Presse of their sadness at the announcement of the death of the pope emeritus. “It is a great pain. He was a very reserved person, but we perceived his depth and he did a lot for the Church”, testified Milo Cecchetto.


Pope Francis pauses in front of a nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, after presiding over Vespers on Saturday.

In his home village in Bavaria, Marktl, the flag of the town hall was lowered, as on all public buildings in Bavaria. Karl Michael Nuck, a 55-year-old resident, said his death “probably was a deliverance for him”, recalling that he had “the courage to resign”.

His death puts an end to the unusual cohabitation of two men in white. “His resignation took everyone by surprise,” recalls Mr. Routhier. Some never accepted it, saying that Pope Francis was not [vraiment] Pope. For them, the death of Benedict XVI will change something. “There will no longer be this situation where there is a pope emeritus, analyzes Mr. Routhier. So there will no longer be this ambivalence about the direction to follow [au sein de l’Église catholique]. »

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