Pope Benedict dies in Rome nine years after resignation

Body of former pope is to lie in state in St Peter’s Basilica from Monday

Pope Benedict XVI (95) died in Rome on Saturday, the Vatican has announced.

His death took place at 9.34am, ending one of the most influential lives in the Catholic Church over the last 40 years.

“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,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

The body of Benedict XVI is to lie in state in St Peter’s Basilica from Monday, the Vatican said. Pope Francis will preside over his funeral on Thursday, January 5th at 9:30am in St Peter’s Square.


Some say Pope Benedict’s influence can be traced back even to the Second Vatican Council (1962 to 1965), where he was a young reform-minded theological adviser to Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne Richard Frings.

His commitment to reform disappeared after 1968 when student riots arrived at his lecture hall in Germany’s Tubingen University. He was appalled at the anarchy he witnessed. Soon, he became almost authoritarian in his orthodoxy and commitment to tradition.

Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger was born on April 16th 1927 at Marktl in Germany’s Bavaria. The third child of Joseph Ratzinger senior and mother Maria, his older brother Georg also became a priest and they had a sister, Maria. Both are now also deceased.

Their father was a policeman whose career suffered because of his opposition to the Nazis. He then witnessed his two sons being conscripted into the Hitler Youth in their mid-teens. After the war, both entered a seminary and were ordained at Munich in 1951. In 1958 Joseph was appointed a theology professor at university in Freising, Bavaria.

After the Second Vatican Council he taught at Tubingen and Regensburg universities in Germany, becoming Archbishop of Munich in 1977 and a cardinal that same year.

In 1981 he was appointed dean of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose role is to safeguard the integrity of Catholic teaching on faith and morals. He ruled forcefully and silenced dissenting theologians.

He reasserted papal authority over the more collegial spirit promoted by the Second Vatican Council, and this approach has dominated the three papacies since; of John Paul II; of his own eight years as Benedict XVI; and that of Pope Francis, to date.

On the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, he was elected as successor but soon began to lose control of senior cardinals at the Vatican with allegations of corruption beginning to circulate. In 2012 it emerged his butler had leaked Benedict’s private papers to media.

In February 2013 Benedict announced his resignation, the first pope to do so in over 600 years. This was completely out of character and due, he said, to health reasons. In almost 10 years as Pope Emeritus, he avoided interference with the more liberal style of his successor, despite pleas from traditional Catholics.

His resignation means too that for the first time in over 600 years a Pope will lead the funeral Mass for his predecessor, as Pope Francis will do in St Peter’s Basilica. As a former head of state, he will lie in state at St Peter’s beforehand to allow foreign dignitaries pay respects. It is unlikely the nine days of funeral rites before burial of a reigning pope will take place in this instance.

He will be buried in the crypt beneath St Peter’s and, as he requested, in the spot previously occupied by the remains of Pope John Paul II, whose funeral Mass in 2005 was led by then cardinal Ratzinger as Dean of the College of Cardinals. Pope John Paul II’s remains were reinterred in St Peter’s on his beatification by Benedict in 2011. He was canonised by Francis in 2014.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times