Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Dies, who led the Catholic Church for nearly eight years before becoming the first pope to resign in six centuries, died Saturday at the age of 95.

Benedict’s death followed an appeal by Pope Francis to pray for his predecessor, with the Vatican announcing the former pontiff’s health had worsened due to “advanced age.”

When he made the shock announcement in 2013 that he would be stepping down, Benedict said he no longer had the physical and mental strength to serve as pope.

He rarely made public appearances in his retirement, dedicating the last years of his life to prayer and meditation as he lived in a former convent in the Vatican.

In a 2018 letter to Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Benedict described “the slow withering of my physical forces,” saying he was “on an interior pilgrimage towards home.”

A powerful and polarizing voice

Benedict was a powerful force in the Catholic Church for decades.

Born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1927, he was the son of a policeman. He was ordained as a priest in 1951, made a cardinal in 1977, and later served as chief theological adviser to Pope John Paul II.

One of his most significant steps up came in 1981 when he took over as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican office that oversees “the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world,” according to the Vatican.

Ratzinger became known as “Cardinal No” stemming from his efforts to crack down on the liberation theology movement, religious pluralism, challenges to traditional teachings on issues such as homosexuality, and calls to ordain women as priests.

He was elected pope in April 2005, following John Paul II’s Death

He was known to be more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who has made moves to soften the Vatican’s position on abortion and homosexuality, as well as doing more to deal with the sexual abuse crisis that has engulfed the church in recent years and clouded Benedict’s legacy.

In April 2019, Benedict discussed the sex abuse crisis in a public letter, claiming that it was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the church’s moral teachings.

In January 2020, Benedict was forced to distance himself from a book widely seen as undercutting Francis as he considered whether or not to allow married men to become priests in certain cases. The book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” argued in favor of the centuries-old tradition of priestly celibacy within the Catholic Church. Benedict was originally listed as co-author, but later clarified that he had only contributed one section of the text.

A year later, Benedict came under fire over his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising, between 1977 and 1982, following the publication of a Church-commissioned report into abuse by Catholic clergy there.

The report found that while in the post he had been informed of four cases of sexual abuse involving minors — including two that had occurred during his time in office — but failed to act. It also revealed Benedict had attended a meeting about an abuser identified as Priest X. Following the report’s publication, Benedict pushed back against accusations that he knew in 1980 that this priest was an abuser.

In a letter released by the Vatican amid the furor, Benedict wrote that he was “of good cheer” as he faced “the final judge of my life,” despite his shortcomings. He also issued a general apology to survivors of abuse.

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