Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger, has passed away at the age of 95, the Vatican announced.

His death on Saturday came days after Pope Francis asked for prayer for his predecessor, saying he was “very ill”.

The Holy See’s press office said Benedict died at his residence in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, which he had chosen as his residence after his resignation in 2013.

‘We have a pope’

“Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam! … I announce a great joy to you: we have a pope!”

These famous words were spoken on April 19, 2005, after the conclave elected Ratzinger pontifex maximus, the pope.

Born in Germany and raised in Bavaria, he would henceforth be known as Benedict XVI.

The conclave’s choice was the next logical step given Ratzinger’s path. A life dedicated to God and the Catholic Church.

From chaplain to pope

After World War II, he first studied theology and philosophy and laid the groundwork for what would come when he became a chaplain in Munich in 1951.

Ratzinger then made a name for himself as an academic. He first obtained his doctorate, then became a professor at the University of Bonn with his inaugural lecture on “the God of faith and the God of philosophy”.

In 1966 he became the chair of dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen, continuing an impressive academic career. But his devotion to religion did not stop at the universities.

While his writings profiled him, the papacy was still not on the horizon. However, Ratzinger also showed the commitment to progress.

“He began to build his credentials with the Vatican, first with Paul VI, who made him a cardinal, and then with John Paul II, who made him the most important advisor close to him in Rome for nearly a quarter of a century,” said Massimo. Faggioli, a professor of historical theology at Villanova University, told Al Jazeera.

Indeed, on March 24, 1977, at the age of 50, he was appointed the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, before being named Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino by Pope Paul VI in the Church Council of 27 June 1977.

“Moral Truths”

Four years later, in 1981, Pope John Paul II summoned Ratzinger to Rome, where he became Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the oldest among the divisions of the Roman Curia.

Ratzinger was henceforth the right-hand man of Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger substantiated theologically what the pope proclaimed.

When Pope John Paul II died, the relationship Ratzinger had built with the latter and the countless other relationships he had championed within the Vatican became invaluable.

“Their two pontificates are part of the same long period of 35 years. At the 2005 conclave, the cardinals knew it, and his election was the choice to reaffirm the direction John Paul II had given the Church since 1978,” said Faggioli.

Ratzinger was considered by many to be one of the most important theologians of our time who knew the Vatican inside and out, including processes, institutions, people and machinations of the Curia. He possessed all the prerequisites for a successful pontificate.

“Benedict XVI’s greatest contribution to the Catholic Church through his encyclicals ‘Deus caritas est’ (God is love), ‘Spe Salvi’ (saved by hope) and ‘Caritas in veritate’ (Love or charity in truth), and other sayings such as as “Sacramentum caritatis” (the sacrament of charity), his emphasis has been on the Church’s teaching on moral truths—that ethical decisions are based on an objective morality, rather than being at the mercy of subjective, chimerical beliefs that he has labeled “the Dictatorship of relativism,” Rebecca Rist, a professor of medieval history at the University of Reading, told Al Jazeera.

“He has emphasized that Christianity is the ‘religion of the Logos’ [reason]but by which he meant that faith comes from “creative reason” and is “open to anything truly rational,” Rist added.

Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict XVI (right) speaks to cardinals during the closing day of the Spiritual Exercises at the Vatican on February 23, 2013 [File: Osservatore Romano/Reuters]

In addition, during his tenure, Benedict XVI established himself as a pope who could and wanted to reach people beyond the dogmata and clandestine nature of the Vatican.

“He was a cleric who could extend his influence across and beyond the Vatican in different circles and audiences. He was not afraid of being unpopular and understood the crisis of the naive liberal-progressive Catholic culture,” said Faggioli.

“He was a policy maker, but also knew how to select a new kind of Catholic bishops, and his books and essays translated into many languages ​​reached many in a way that was not typical of a cardinal and more of a public intellectual,” he added. up to it.

Lack of structural reforms

Benedict XVI also ushered in significant changes during his papacy.

Rist said he increased the number and speed of beatifications and canonizations, allowed the celebration of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass which had declined in popularity after Vatican II (1962-1965), and enabled some curial reforms such as the creation of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

Benedict also began the process of addressing widespread sexual abuse and pedophilia among the clergy, as well as initiating a sometimes controversial interfaith dialogue with sister Christian churches such as the Greek Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, and other leading religions such as Judaism and Islam . , Buddhism and Hinduism, she added.

On the other hand, Benedict XVI failed to usher in a much-needed paradigm shift within the Catholic Church and the papacy.

“He failed to reshuffle the papacy so that a pope could avoid being the spokesperson for a post-European, global Catholic Church and for interfaith dialogue, an attitude that has since been embraced and embodied by Francis,” Faggioli said.

In addition, while he tightened the rules for handling cases of sexual violence worldwide and in the Curia, critics noted that he never addressed the root causes of the violence, which can be found in the structures of the Church, despite all sincere remorse .

“Ratzinger did not work to bring about the canonical and theological change that made the sexual abuse crisis painfully and clearly necessary; instead, he continued to view the scandal through the lens of the post-1968 culture war. And he never made any real attempt to reform the Vatican and the central government of the Catholic Church,” Faggioli said.

Pope Benedict XVI (C) greets well-wishers in Guanajuato, Mexico
Pope Benedict XVI (center) greets well-wishers in Guanajuato, Mexico on March 24, 2012 [File: Mario Guzman/EPA]

Other criticisms include his “naivety and fragility in dealing with financial and structural problems within the Roman Curia,” according to Rist.

“Critics claim he only surfaced in clearing up financial irregularities and abuses, such as in the case of the 2012 Vati-Leaks scandal that saw documents leaked by his butler, Paolo Gabriele, and infighting and factional fighting in the Vatican ,” she added.

“It has been suggested that Benedict’s realization that he was physically and mentally incapable of dealing with such corruption cemented his decision to step down from the papal office in 2013,” Rist said.

But regardless of how history will judge Benedict XVI, regardless of missed opportunities and internal disputes within the Catholic Church, the legacy he now leaves behind, as a scholar and as a pope, is immense, experts say.

“Benedict’s outstanding qualities as pope were those of an intellectual, academic, theologian and teacher,” Rist said.

“He is in a class of his own in terms of influence, unlike any other cleric in the past 50 years,” Faggioli concluded.

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