Former Pope Benedict XVI dies aged 95 after battle with illness

Former Pope Benedict XVI, who led the Catholic Church from 2005 until his resignation in 2013, has died at the age of 95.

Tributes have poured in from around the world after the Pope Emeritus passed away on Saturday morning.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis revealed that his predecessor was “very ill” and went to see him in his home in the Vatican Gardens.

Pope Benedict had fallen ill in recent days (via Reuters)
Pope Benedict had fallen ill in recent days (via Reuters)

Benedict’s health had been deteriorating over recent days but the Vatican said on Friday that he was well enough to participate in a Mass in his room.

He was being tended to by a team of doctors and his papal family, including his secretary Monsignor Georg Gaenswein. Benedict’s body will lie in St Peter’s Basilica from Monday.

A statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said this morning: “With pain I inform that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery in the Vatican. Further information will be released as soon as possible.”

Benedict resigned as Pope in 2013, the first in 600 years to do so. A conservative defender of Catholic tradition, Benedict had been living in the Vatican since then and continued to wear the white dress of papacy.

Reacting to the news of his death, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said Benedict was “one of the great theologians of the 20th Century”.

Benedict had resigned from the role in 2013 (AFP via Getty Images)
Benedict had resigned from the role in 2013 (AFP via Getty Images)

He added: “He was through and through a gentleman, through and through a scholar, through and through a pastor, through and through a man of God - close to the Lord and always his humble servant.

“Pope Benedict is very much in my heart and in my prayers. I give thanks to God for his ministry and leadership.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “I am saddened to learn of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was a great theologian whose UK visit in 2010 was a historic moment for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout our country.”

Pope Benedict, whose birth name is Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, was born to devout Catholic parents in Germany in 1927.

His father was a policeman in Hitler’s Germany, whose outspoken criticism of the Nazis forced to the family to move several times. Young Ratzinger was conscripted into the army as a teenager but deserted towards the end of the war.

He already had a desire to enter the priesthood at an early age and continued his education in a seminary after the war. He was ordained as a priest in June 1951 and began a long career in academic, teaching theology at a number of universities in Germany.

Benedict, who was seen as a deeply conservative pontiff, had an eight-year papacy that was marked by missteps and a leaks scandal.

Former Pope Benedict (R) with his successor Pope Francis in 2016 (REUTERS)
Former Pope Benedict (R) with his successor Pope Francis in 2016 (REUTERS)

One of the most significant events of his papacy, the 2021 ‘Vatileaks’ scandal, saw Benedict’s butler Paolo Gabriele leak secret documents that revealed corruption and feuding within the Vatican.

Child abuse scandals also hounded his papacy and Benedict was quicker to discipline the offenders than his predecessor John Paul II.

Benedict ordered an inquiry into abuse in Ireland, which led to the resignation of several bishops, and he also disciplined the late Father Marcial Maciel - a notorious paedophile who abused at least 60 boys.

Benedict did however face criticism over his handling of abuse claims in the German church. In 2022, a report into abuse within Germany found that Benedict had failed to take action in four cases when he was Archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982.