Pope Benedict XVI, whose resignation shocked Catholics, dies at 95

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Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign as the head of the Catholic Church, died Saturday. 

Benedict, who was previously known as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, was 95. His death follows reports this week that his health had been failing. 

A statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni on Saturday morning said: “With pain I inform that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery in the Vatican.”

The Vatican also announced that Pope Francis will celebrate the funeral Mass for Benedict Thursday in St. Peter’s Square and Benedict’s remains will be on public display in St. Peter’s Basilica starting Monday for the faithful to pay respects. Benedict’s request was that his funeral would be celebrated solemnly but with “simplicity,” Bruni said.

Benedict received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick Wednesday after his daily Mass, Bruni said.

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How long was Pope Benedict a pope? 

The church elected Benedict to the papacy in 2005, and Benedict served until 2013. He succeeded Pope John Paul II and was the 265th person to take on the role. 

He became a priest in 1951 in Germany, and he held several prominent leadership roles in the church, including the dean of the College of Cardinals, a governing body within the Catholic Church that, among other things, is responsible for electing the pope. 

Why did Pope Benedict resign? 

At the time, he said he was relinquishing the role due to his ailing health. 

“Both strength of mind and body are necessary, 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,” he said.

This file handout picture released in 2018, by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis, left, greeting Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, on June 28, 2017. Pope Francis said Dec. 28, 2022, that former pontiff Benedict XVI, 95, is "very ill" and urged people to pray for him before going to be by his side.

Benedict was 85 at the time. 

Benedict stayed living at the Vatican. He continued to wear a white cassock, though he stopped wearing the iconic red shoes. He instead adopted a pair of brown shoes he received on a trip to Mexico in 2012. He also gave up the papal ring. 

What was pope Benedict known for?

Benedict was a theologian and was generally known for his traditional interpretation of what Catholicism should be. He allowed greater use of a traditional form of mass conducted in Latin, a move praised by conservatives and criticized by others as regressive. 

He also introduced a new form of English mass in 2011 that again delighted traditionalists, but critics called it dull because it hewed more closely to the Latin original.

For example, when priests said “The Lord be with you,” parishioners had responded, “And also with you.” In the new version, they were expected instead to say in response, “And with your spirit,” which threw off many current and former Catholics. (It even inspired comedic skewering.) 

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the congregation after mass at Nationals Park on April 17, 2008 in Washington, D.C.

In 2012, Benedict became the first pope to use Twitter. Within hours of the account’s announcement, 200,000 people had followed the account. It had nearly 3 million followers just weeks later. 

How will Benedict be remembered as pope? 

Benedict’s decision to step down was shocking to many Catholics and observers of the church. Traditionally, the pope serves in the role until his death, and few have voluntarily given up the role. 

Beyond his decision to resign, Benedict was widely criticized for the church’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases in Germany when he was the archbishop of Munich. He had asked for forgiveness for “grievous faults” in connection to the cases, but didn’t admit to having done anything wrong. He was also criticized for not taking more aggressive action as pope to punish cardinals and bishops who oversaw sexual abuses in the church. 

Benedict was known for speaking against gay marriage, saying it was a threat to humanity’s future

Benedict also faced criticism for joining the Hitler Youth at 14 in 1941, though the church and others noted he was legally required to do so. He was later drafted into the German army at 16, but he deserted in 1945 to rejoin the seminary, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Contact Chris Quintana at (202) 308-9021 or cquintana@usatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CQuintanadc

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