Pope Benedict XVI’s lying in state begins in Vatican as thousands expected to pay their respects

People look at the body of late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI laid out in state inside St. Peter’s Basilica (AP)

People waited in a queue at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Monday to pay respect to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose body will lie in state until his funeral.

The former pope's body, dressed in red and gold liturgical vestments, was placed on a dais, which was being looked after by the Swiss guards standing on either side.

He will lie in state until Wednesday and his funeral will be held on Thursday at St Peter's Square. The "simple, solemn and sober ceremony" will be presided over by Pope Francis.

The former pope died on 31 December at the age of 95. "With pain I inform that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery in the Vatican,” a statement from spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

He had been living in a secluded Vatican monastery since shockingly retiring from the papacy in 2013, the first to do so in 600 years.

During his eight-year papacy, the former pope, known to be a methodical, shy and very private German, had a hard time filling the shoes of the charismatic John Paul.

On Monday, the viewing for members of the public will last for 10 hours followed by 12 hours scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Security officials expect at least 25,000 people to pass by the body on the first day of viewing.

Filippo Tuccio, 35, who took an overnight train from Venice to pay his respect said “Benedict had a key role in his life and education”.

“I arrived here at around 7:30, after leaving Venice last night,” he told Associated Press. “When I was young I participated in World Youth Days,” he said, referring to the jamborees of young faithful held periodically and attended by pontiffs.

He added that he had studied theology, and “his pontificate accompanied me during my university years.” “He was very important for me: for what I am, my way of thinking, my values. This is why I wanted to say goodbye today.”

Earlier in February 2022, the former pope acknowledged that errors occurred in handling sexual abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich and asked for forgiveness.

The Vatican issued a letter by Benedict and a three-page addendum following a report released last month on abuse in the archdiocese from 1945 to 2019 which included the alleged failure by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to take action in four cases when he was Munich archbishop between 1977 and 1982.

“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” he wrote in the letter, his first personal response to the report.