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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Benedict XVI has passed away today at the age of 95.
The director of the Holy See's Press Office made the announcement, saying, "With sorrow, I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 [a.m.] in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican."
In his last days, the pontiff's health conditions had been worsening due to advancing age.
In June 2020, the pope flew to his native Bavaria to visit his ailing older brother Georg Ratzinger, who died a few days after the visit.
Pope Benedict took ill shortly after the visit, never recovering his full strength.
The beloved pontiff — the longest-living pope in history — leaves behind a grieving public.
On Jan. 2, the body of the emeritus pope will be in St. Peter's Basilica for the world to bid farewell.
Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Bavaria on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927, the youngest of three children. He was ordained in the Cathedral of Freising with his brother Georg in 1951.
Common for young German men of his generation, he was enrolled into the Hitler Youth program, experiencing firsthand the machinations of Nazi indoctrinators. When he was 14 years old, Ratzinger saw his cousin — who was born with Down syndrome — taken from his home by Nazi officials. The Ratzinger family never saw the child again, later learning he had died — likely murdered, ostensibly for draining the resources of the utilitarian regime.
Such experiences informed Benedict's teaching and doctrine. He often stressed the Church's objections to euthanasia, calling it a "false solution" to human suffering. He is thought to have helped craft Pope St. John Paul II's "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," which proffered an apology for Catholic shortcomings in the Holocaust.
In 1953, Ratzinger earned a doctorate in theology after successfully defending his thesis, "The People and House of God in St. Augustine's Doctrine of the Church." Four years later, he qualified as a university professor with a dissertation on the theology of the history of St. Bonaventure.
Ratzinger went on to teach theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising (1952–1959), the University of Bonn (1959–1963), the University of Münster (1963–1969), the University of Tübingen (1966–1969) and the University of Ratisbon (1969–1977).
In 1962, Ratzinger served as a theological consultant to Vatican II and was considered one of the brightest minds of the council. "This was a very great time of my life, in which I was able to be part of this meeting, not only between bishops and theologians, but also between continents, different cultures and different schools of thinking and spirituality in the Church," he later reflected.
Though Ratzinger initially subscribed to a more liberal perspective, by the late 1960s, his ideas were beginning to be recognized as among the more orthodox in the Church.
The future pope became a professor of theology at Bonn University when he was just 32 years of age, and, in 1972, he founded, along with theologians Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac, the journal Communio, to which he regularly contributed.
In 1969, he was appointed vice president and professor of dogmatic theology and of the history of dogmas at the University of Regensburg where, decades later, he would deliver his famous Regensburg address that denounced relativism and its tangent dangers.
On Christmas Day, 1969, the future pope delivered a message over German radio that employed a remarkably prophetic tone. He said:
From the crisis of today, the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh, more or less from the beginning. ... What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death.
What would not remain, in his view, was "the Church of the political cult," which, he maintained, "is dead already."
"It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently," he said, "but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."
Pope Paul VI appointed Ratzinger archbishop of Munich and Freising on March 24, 1977, and he was elevated to cardinal later that year.
In 1981, at age 54, Pope John Paul II called Ratzinger to Rome to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), where he served until his papal election in 2005.
As prefect, Ratzinger defended and reaffirmed official Catholic teaching on birth control, homosexuality and interreligious dialogue. He also upheld the teaching against the ordination of women and stated that it belonged to the Deposit of Faith, meaning that it was beyond the jurisdiction of any pope to change.
His sometimes fierce defense of the Faith earned him the appellation of "God's Rottweiler," although he was also described as gentle, pious and even "sweet-tempered."
In 1984, he issued a 36-page essay, titled ''Instruction on Certain Aspects of the 'Theology of Liberation,''' that critiqued leftist politicization of doctrine in Latin America and elsewhere.
Denouncing the use of Marxist tools to rectify injustice, the instruction reads:
Millions of our own contemporaries legitimately yearn to recover those basic freedoms of which they were deprived by totalitarian and atheistic regimes which came to power by violent and revolutionary means, precisely in the name of the liberation of the people. This shame of our time cannot be ignored: While claiming to bring them freedom, these regimes keep whole nations in conditions of servitude which are unworthy of mankind. Those who, perhaps inadvertently, make themselves accomplices of similar enslavements betray the very poor they mean to help.
The document denounces conflating ''the Kingdom of God'' with ''the human liberation movement.'' ''This identification is in opposition to the faith of the Church,'' the congregation stated.
The prefect said:
In giving such priority to the political dimension, one is led to deny the "radical newness" of the New Testament and, above all, to misunderstand the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and thus the specific character of the salvation He gave us, that is, above all, liberation from sin, which is the source of all evils.
Two years later, the cardinal prefect issued a second instruction that expanded his discussion regarding Marxist infiltration into the Church.
During this period, the CDF took disciplinary measures against a number of radical liberation theologians in Latin America (e.g., Leonardo Boff), and chastized the work of other leftist religious activists throughout the world, including Loretto sister Jeannine Gramick, cofounder of New Ways Ministry.
"Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves," Benedict said in his first homily, cognizant of the powerful — and evil — forces assailing the Church and the papacy.
And to the enthusiastic crowds at his first papal blessing, Benedict humbly implored: "Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope, John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the Lord's vineyard. The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and ... I entrust myself to your prayers."
In 2006, Benedict took to the dais of the great hall of the University of Regensburg, where he had once served as a professor of theology, and delivered a lecture entitled "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections."
"It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium," he began the address, which was devoted to the issue recta ratio or right reason. "Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature," Benedict declared.
The pope's focus on the importance of recta ratio flew in the face of the prevailing relativism that he spoke out against throughout his life and which may have been permeating the very university at which he was speaking.
His intention, he said, was "to be obedient to the truth" and had "nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age." He emphasized the purpose was to broaden man's understanding of reason:
While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities, and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.
The pontiff explained that only through right reason "do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."
In a 10-year retrospective, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller described the address as "a historic event of the first order." Its influence was shown in 2007, when 138 Islamic scholars, in an open letter to the world's Christian leaders titled "A Common Word Between Us and You," put forth an offer to dialogue on peaceful coexistence between people of different religious convictions.
"Benedict the Brave," the pontiff was called by James Day writing for the Catholic World Report, in another retrospective, "for his championing right reason and his challenge of the pervading dictatorship of relativism."
Not suffering the little children to come unto him, Pope Benedict spoke to world youth each year of his papacy.
In 2005, his first papal year, he delivered a warm-yet-realistic message in Cologne that reverberated with a theme that courses through his teaching — the reality of being a Christian in the 21st century.
"In these days I encourage you to commit yourselves without reserve to serving Christ, whatever the cost," he told a huge gathering of youth who were perched atop a river cruiser on the Rhine. "Share your joys and pains with Christ, and let Him enlighten your minds with His light and touch your hearts with His grace."
In 2009, Pope Benedict spoke to world youth with words of comfort and, at the same time, words of warning about the reality of being a Christian in the 21st century.
"To you young people, who are in search of a firm hope," he said, "I address the very words that St. Paul wrote to the persecuted Christians in Rome at that time: 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit'" (Romans 15:13).
He returned to his Regensburg theme regarding the dangers of relativism and "absolutizing what is not absolute."
He underscored that it was not reason alone that could save the world: "It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true," he said. "True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?"
During the eight years of his papacy, Benedict issued three encyclicals treating the theological virtues — faith, hope and love — in light of current theological and social problems.
Unique in their references both to secular authors like Plato, Cicero, Nietzsche, Marx and Dostoevsky, as well as to Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the encyclicals reveal the breadth of Benedict's scholarship.
Written in the first year of his papacy, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) focuses on the meaning of love — the agape love celebrated in Christianity, distinguishing it from eros.
In the course of his discussion, he disproves German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's charge that "Christianity had poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice."
In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant. For this reason, I wish in my first encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others.
Two years later, in 2007, the pope issued Spe Salvi (In Hope We Were Saved). Referencing Scripture, the pope wrote, "The Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were 'without God in the world.' To come to know God — the true God — means to receive hope." The pope taught that man's true hope will not be found in technology or ideology but only in God.
In Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), the pope tackled many modern social issues including international trade and finance as well as abortion, sterilization and euthanasia in light of Catholic teaching.
"Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth," he wrote.
The two need each other, he said in this last encyclical: "Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the 'economy' of charity, but charity, in its turn, needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth."
Among his writings, the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007) stands out in its anchoring of the Tridentine Mass on firm liturgical footing.
Benedict made the case that the traditional Latin Mass — which he called the "Extraordinary Form" — could no longer be left behind as a thing of the past. The pope told the world's bishops in a letter that accompanied the motu proprio, "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."
At the time of its issuance, Vatican Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos explained the significance of this document in light of Vatican II. "The Holy Father, who is a theologian and who was (involved) in the preparation for the council, is acting exactly in the way of the council, offering with freedom the different kinds of celebration," Castrillón said.
"The Holy Father is not returning to the past; he is taking a treasure from the past to offer it alongside the rich celebration of the new rite," the cardinal added.
In a personal search for God, Benedict published, in 2007, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, a three-volume book on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. "It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search 'for the face of the Lord,'" he explained.
In the book, the pontiff asks simply: "What has [Jesus] brought?" "The answer is very simple," he says. "God. He has brought God!"
"Now we know His face; now we can call upon Him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world," he wrote. "Jesus has brought God, and with God the truth about where we are going and where we come from: faith, hope and love."
Student Soul, a website devoted to helping college students to self-reflect, explains Benedict's purpose:
Benedict critiques most modern interpretations of Jesus as christologically deficient. Jesus the moralist, Jesus the social revolutionary, Jesus the sage — all these portraits of Jesus are, according to Benedict, in some sense, correct. Where they fail is that they stress the message without regard for the medium — they put the cart before the horse. In an effort to stress Jesus' social message, "historical Jesus" scholars have undercut the only basis for real social action and human rights, namely belief in God. This is the gospel of the Incarnation.
The gospel is "not just informative speech, but performative speech — not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform," the pope explains.
At his last Angelus in St. Peter's Square, Benedict XVI commented on the gospel account of the Transfiguration. "The Lord is calling me to 'scale the mountain', to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation," the 85-year-old Holy Father said to the faithful packed in and around St. Peter's Square for the last Angelus of his pontificate, given on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013.
He was the first pope in centuries to retire. The pope delivered in Latin the message of his retirement during a meeting of Vatican cardinals.
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he told the cardinals. "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering."
"However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary," he said, "strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
Despite being retired, in 2019, the pope emeritus — as he preferred to be called — responded to the clerical sex abuse crisis in a 6,000-word essay titled "The Church and the Scandal of Sexual Abuse."
In it, he refers to "an egregious event" that occurred "on a scale unprecedented in history," beginning in the 1960s when "previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely."
"They destroyed the innocence of Western youth by inciting hedonistic self-indulgence and abandoning the concept of human sexuality as a sacred, God-given gift," he lamented.
The former pontiff blamed the sexual revolution for the abuse crisis, marking its inception at 1968. "Among the freedoms that the revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom," he wrote. "The matter begins with the State-prescribed-and-supported introduction of children and youths into the nature of sexuality."
The pontiff pointed out that, at the time, "In Germany, the then-minister of health, Ms. [Käte] Strobel, had a film made in which everything that had previously not been allowed to be shown publicly, including sexual intercourse, was now shown for the purpose of education."
"Part of the physiognomy of the revolution of '68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate," he continued.
"Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God. ... God is regarded as the party concern of a small group and can no longer stand as the guiding principle for the community as a whole," the pope emeritus said. "This decision reflects the situation in the West, where God has become the private affair of a minority."
"A world without God can only be a world without meaning," says Benedict. "For where, then, does everything that is come from? In any case, it has no spiritual purpose. It is somehow simply there and has neither any goal nor any sense."
Recent reports confirm the lucidity of Pope Benedict XVI's analysis, as they address emerging instances of state-sponsored pedophilia occurring throughout Europe since the late 1960s.
In the last year of his life, Benedict was subject to a salvo of ecclesiastical attacks emanating from the leftist and LGBT movement within the Church.
Benedict's personal secretary, Abp. Georg Gänswein, in comments to an Italian daily, said members of this movement saw recent attacks as an "opportunity" to pursue "a damnatio memoriae" [destruction of a person's legacy to posterity] against the pope.
Gänswein said he believed the movement exists for "weakening, destroying the person of Benedict XVI."
Attacks centered around accusations that Benedict had mishandled abuse cases during his tenure as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982.
Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing, a leader of the German Synodal Way (bent on upturning the Church's 2,000-year position on homosexuality and female ordination) called for Benedict to apologize for the alleged mishandling.
In an apostolic letter, Benedict denied any mishandling and commiserated with abuse victims, saying, "The victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy, and I feel great sorrow for each individual case."
Attacks intensified when, in an 82-page report, the retired pontiff mistakenly stated he did not participate in a meeting in 1980 to discuss the transfer of a priest for therapy. For this, his enemies accused him of lying and perjury.
Gänswein refuted the accusations, saying: "Those who know him know that the accusation of lying is absurd. A distinction must be made between making a mistake and lying."
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who became one of the pontiff's closest collaborators in 2007, said it was always clear that Benedict XVI was willing to face with determination the topic of pedophilia.
"In this, I can testify first of all to his profound and very high moral and intellectual honesty," Filoni said. "This is unquestionable, even if there is no shortage of those who today are railing against him."
In the midst of the attacks, the pontiff emeritus summarily said, "Quite soon, I shall find myself before the final judge of my life."
Benedict's significance for the Church — indeed for the world — transcends facile categorizations. "He has so many qualities," then-archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahony said upon Benedict's election to the papacy, "so many dimensions."
Priest, scholar, "simple, humble worker in the Lord's vineyard," liberator of the ancient liturgical rite, visionary, scaler of spiritual mountains, God's Rottweiler, gentle bearer of Christ's message, Benedict the Brave — these are some of his appellations.
Described and even derided as "conservative" by Church liberals and those phobic of tradition, he will be seen, by any measure, as one of the most important theological voices of his time, one who survived the treachery of Nazi Germany, Marxism, enemies in and outside the Church — and, yes, even the wolves.
And certainly, his work can be seen as a vehicle for carrying faith, hope, charity — Christianity itself — into the uncertain future of the "Church of tomorrow," the phrase he used in his 1969 interview.
In an authorized biography, Benedict XVI – A Life (Volume I), German author Peter Seewald quotes Benedict as saying he has prepared a spiritual testament that will not be revealed until after his passing.
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