Former pope Benedict XVI, who became the first pontiff to resign in some 600 years, has died aged 95.
Pope Francis, who replaced him as head of the Catholic Church, had asked the faithful to pray for him at the end of his general audience on Wednesday morning.
“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,” a spokesperson said.
“As of Monday morning, 2 January 2023, the body of the Pope Emeritus will be in Saint Peter’s Basilica so the faithful can bid farewell.”
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The health of the Pope Emeritus, as Benedict was called after he stepped down, had undergone a “worsening in the last hours” due to his age, the Vatican said, and doctors were constantly monitoring his condition.
Francis had gone to visit Benedict at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in Vatican City after the audience.
Benedict had lived in the Vatican, a separate nation-state that is within the boundary of the Italian capital Rome, after he ceased being Pope in 2013.
He had become increasingly frail in recent years after dedicating his post-papacy life to prayer and meditation.
For hundreds of years before Benedict became the Holy Father, popes had headed the Catholic Church until their deaths.
On 11 February 2013, Benedict’s surprise announcement to stand aside shocked the Catholic world, and forced the church to grapple with an event it had not seen in centuries.
He said he wanted to resign as he no longer had the physical and mental strength to run the church.
Resignation of ‘God’s Rottweiler’ shocked the world – and he continued to be controversial
Before being elected pope in 2005, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served as the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
He held the powerful role for 24 years, earning the nickname “God’s Rottweiler” for his strictly conservative theological views.
Speaking before his death was announced, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster said Benedict would be remembered as “one of the great theologians of the 20th century”.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols told Times Radio he had met Benedict several times and he “was always so courteous”.
“When he came to this country in 2011 he was described as ‘God’s Rottweiler’, but by the time he left I think he was considered to be everybody’s great uncle.
“There was a real gentleness about him, and when I saw him just over a year ago, September last year, that hadn’t changed. He was very, very weak, but very bright and very alert and very with it.”