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Pope Benedict XVI Dies – The New York Times

Pope Benedict XVI Dies – The New York Times

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Pope Benedict XVI, the prominent German theologian and conservative proponent of Roman Catholic Church doctrine who broke with nearly 600 years of tradition by resigning and then living for nearly a decade behind Vatican walls as a retired pope still wearing white robes, has died in Saturday at the age of 95, the Vatican said.

Just as Benedict’s resignation in 2013 shook the Roman Catholic Church to its foundations, his death once again put the institution in thinly defined territory.

The death of a pope usually sets off a conclave to elect a new church leader, but Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, was named when Benedict stepped down. It was Francis who on Wednesday reported the news of Benedict’s final decline in the world.

Now, after a life dedicated to maintaining order and tradition in the church, Benedict’s death has placed him in a moment of uncertainty, with questions about how and in what capacity he will be mourned and whether a living pope will preside over the funeral of a deceased one.

Whatever ceremonies the Vatican ultimately decides on, the loss of Benedict will be particularly hard on the church’s conservatives.

Even before his election as Pope of April 19, 2005his supporters saw him as their intellectual and spiritual north star, a leader who, as a powerful Vatican official, maintained church doctrine in the face of growing secularism and pressure for change to get more people into the pews.

Benedict’s critics are more likely to remember him as a destroyer of dissent who did too little to address sexual abuse in the church, stumbled in some of his public statements and lacked the charisma of his predecessor John Paul II.

Francis fired or demoted many of Benedict’s appointees, realigned the church’s priorities and adjusted its emphasis from setting and enforcing boundaries to pastoral inclusion.

Still, in some ways Francis is building on Benedict’s legacy, particularly in dealing with the child sexual abuse crisis. Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims, and he apologized for the abuse allowed to fester under John Paul II. He condemned the “filth” in the church and excommunicated some priests who had transgressed.

But abuse survivors and their advocates accused Benedict of this couldn’t get far enough in punishing several priests as a bishop in Germany and in dealing with accusations against some priests as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office. It has also been criticized for not doing much to hold the hierarchy accountable for protecting and thus facilitating child sexual abuse.

Benedict, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger, was ordained a priest in 1951 and named archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, the same year he became a cardinal. Four years later, Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome, where he became head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office responsible for defending church orthodoxy, one of the most important positions in the Vatican.

He led the office for nearly 25 years.

After John Paul II died in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen as his successor. It was named after a sixth-century monk, Benedict of Nursia, who founded monasteries and the Benedictine order, helping to spread Christianity in Europe. The new pope, like Benedict XVI, will seek to re-evangelize a Europe that is struggling to keep its faith.

Pope Benedict eventually relented during a period of scandal and immense pressure. He pointed to declining health, both “of mind and body.” He said he resigned freely and “for the good of the church.”

This resignation – the first by a pontiff since 1415 – will probably be remembered as his most defining act.

He lived in retirement in a monastery on the territory of the Vatican, mostly withdrawing from public life and devoting himself to prayer and meditation. Francis visited him and called him a “wise grandfather in the home,” even as his supporters tried — and failed — to turn him into an alternative center of power.


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