Benedict XVI, the theologian pope who revolutionized Vatican tradition with his resignation, has died

Benedict XVI

This Saturday Benedict XVI died at the age of 95. The election of him as Pope, the April 19, 2005did not cause much surprise: Joseph Ratzinger, then 78 years old, and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was the closest collaborator of John Paul II since the early 80s.

He was elected in the 4th scrutiny, in a conclave that he himself presided over as dean of the College of Cardinals.

His first words from the window that overlooks Saint Peter’s Square, already like Pope Benedict XVI, They were said with the humility and simplicity that always characterized him: “dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have chosen me, a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard…”

almost 8 years later, surprised the entire world by submitting his resignation on February 28, 2013, something that had not happened since the 13th century. No pontiff resigned, only death opened the succession process.

That unprecedented gesture began the path of a renewal that had its first manifestation in the election for the first time in history of a non-European pontiff, the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio.

Benedict XVI has spent his retirement years in a residence inside the Vatican. He wasn’t suffering from any severe illness, just the normal ailments of his old age. He had progressively been losing mobility and voice, which further limited his public appearances and his participation in religious services.

The only time he has left the Vatican since his resignation was to visit his brother Georg in Germanyin the year 2020, shortly before he passed away.

During his pontificate he had to face several crises, the most serious being the scandal produced by the crimes of sexual abuse to minors by members of the Church in various countries around the world. It was he who took the first steps to deal with these cases in a more effective and transparent way.

But even before he was elected Pope, Ratzinger was already facing a permanent campaign of smears, that ranged from the classic and abusive association “German = Nazi”, in his case especially unfounded, to another equally capricious association between the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and a court of Inquisition.

The defamation also implied accusing Benedict XVI himself of covering up the crimes of pedophilia; however, the truth prevailed and Ratzinger He was called “the sweeper of God”, for the cleaning task he carried out not only with respect to abusive priests but also Vatican finances. Two lines of work continued by his successor, Francisco.

Pope Benedict XVI with the still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio
Pope Benedict XVI with the still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio

Benedict met on several occasions with victims of abuse and ordered “zero tolerance” for these crimes in the Church. But none of this stopped the slander of a certain press, added to the difficulties and internal obstacles to deal with the issue. The norms that currently apply in these cases were designed under his pontificate.

Possibly it was the wear and tear generated by these combatswith intrigues, pressure and internal espionage included, which led him to submit his resignation.

In his almost eight years of pontificate, Benedict XVI visited 24 countries on four continents. He published three encyclicals. The first in 2006, “Deus Caritast Est”, which begins with “God is love, whoever is in love dwells in God and God dwells in him.” The Pontiff surprised with this message after many predicted that this first encyclical would be a severe lesson on Christian doctrine, speculation more in line with the image that his detractors created of him than with the reality of his priesthood.

“Saved in Hope” was his second Encyclical, a text in which Benedict XVI arouses a longing for eternity. “It is not a continuous succession of calendar days but the most gratifying moment to immerse yourself in the cocenao of infinite love.” The third, “Charity in the truth”, uses the economic situation to indicate that “The most powerful force at the service of development is Christian humanism.”

In terms of interreligious dialogue, he continued the dialogue with Protestants and on his trip to Germany in 2005, he was the first Pope to visit a synagogue in that country. Similarly, on his trip to Turkey, he visited the Sultna Ahmed Mosque. In 2008, he modified the Holy Week iturgy by removing the mention of Jews. He also visited the Auschwitz death camp.

He abandoned the title of “Patriarch of the West”, which represented an obstacle to dialogue with the Orthodox Christian churches; and he met Metropolitan Kirill, beginning a path that would be continued by Francis.

He called on the G-8 countries to cancel the external debt of the poorest countries, following a policy already inaugurated by John Paul II. He was the first pontiff to refer to Latin America as “the continent of hope”, in contrast to aging Europe, due to the dynamism of its faith and its evangelizing force

Another fundamental legacy of Ratzinger is the intellectual one, since he was an outstanding theologian, which he recorded in several books. Among them, occupy a prominent place Introduction to Christianity, compilation of university lectures published in 1968 on the profession of apostolic faith; Y dogma and revelation (1973), an anthology of essays, preaching and reflections, dedicated to the pastoral.

Benedict XVI on his visit to Cuba
Benedict XVI on his visit to Cuba


Joseph Ratzinger He was born in Marktl am Inn, diocese of Passau (Germany), on April 16, 1927 (he was Holy Saturday, something that the future Pope himself always considered predestination), and was baptized that same day. His father, a commissioner of the gendarmerie, came from a family of farmers in Lower Bavaria, with rather modest economic conditions. Her mother was the daughter of craftsmen from Rimsting, on Lake Chiem, and before her marriage she worked as a cook in various hotels.

In his family, this birth on such a significant day for the Christian faith was considered “a privilege in which resided a singular hope and a predestination, which should be revealed with the passing of time”, Ratzinger would say in an interview in 1998. And to his biographer Peter Seewald, he said: “it seems that my parents had felt these graces as providential and they told me from the beginning”.

Holy Saturday reflects “the situation of our century, and also that of my life”, Ratzinger said. “On one side, there is darkness, uncertainty, dangers, threats, and on the other, the certainty that there is light, that it is worth living and continuing. Holy Saturday is a day when Christ is mysteriously hidden and at the same time present, and that has become a life program for me”, explained this Pope of deep faith and extensive theological training.

According to his official biography on the Vatican website, the future Benedict XVI spent his childhood and adolescence in Traunstein, a small town near the Austrian border, thirty kilometers from Salzburg. In this framework, which he himself has defined as “Mozartian”, he received his Christian, human and cultural formation.

The period of his youth was not easy. “His family’s faith and education prepared him to face the harsh experience of those times, in which the Nazi regime maintained a climate of strong hostility against the Catholic Church. The young Joseph saw how the Nazis beat the parish priest before the celebration of holy mass, ”reports the section of the emeritus pope on the Vatican website.

Pope Benedict XVI with his brother, also a priest, Georg Ratzinger, in their private chapel in the Vatican (April 2012, REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)
Pope Benedict XVI together with his brother, also a priest, Georg Ratzinger, in his private chapel in the Vatican (April 2012, REUTERS / Osservatore Romano) (Osservatore Romano /)

Precisely in this complex situation, the text explains, “he discovered the beauty and truth of faith in Christ.” In the last months of World War II he was enlisted in the auxiliary anti-aircraft services. From 1946 to 1951 he studied philosophy and theology at the Freising School of Philosophy and Theology and at the University of Munich. He was ordained a priest on June 29, 1951.

A year later, he began his teaching activity at the École Superior de Freising. In 1953 he received his doctorate in Theology with the thesis: “People and house of God in the doctrine of the Church of San Agustín”. Four years later, under the direction of the well-known professor of fundamental theology Gottlieb Söhngen, he obtained a teaching habilitation with a dissertation on: “The theology of the history of Saint Bonaventure”.

After holding the position of Professor of Dogmatic and Fundamental Theology in Freising, he continued his teaching activity in Bonn, from 1959 to 1963; in Münster, from 1963 to 1966; and in Tübingen, from 1966 to 1969. In this last year he became Professor of Dogmatics and History of Dogma at the University of Regensburg, where he also held the position of Vice President of the University.

From 1962 to 1965 he made a notable contribution to the Second Vatican Council as an “expert”; he came as theological consultant to Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne.

His intense academic activity led him to hold important positions at the service of the German Bishops’ Conference and the International Theological Commission. In 1972, together with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and other great theologians of the time, he created the theological magazine “Communio”.

On March 25, 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Munich and Freising. On May 28 of the same year he received the episcopal consecration. He was the first diocesan priest, after 80 years, to take over the pastoral governance of the large Bavarian archdiocese. He chose as his episcopal motto: “Collaborator of the truth.” He himself explained why: “On the one hand, it seemed to me that this was the relationship between my previous task as a teacher and my new mission. Despite the different modes, what was at stake and continued to be was to follow the truth, to be at its service. And, on the other, I chose that motto because in today’s world the subject of truth is almost totally omitted, for it seems something too great for man, and yet, everything falls apart if the truth is missing.

Paul VI made him a cardinal in the consistory of June 27 of that same year 1977.

In 1978 he participated in the Conclave, held from August 25 to 26, which He chose John Paul I, who appointed him as his special envoy to the III International Mariological Congress, held in Guayaquil (Ecuador), from September 16 to 24. In the month of October of that same year, after the premature and sudden death of John Paul I, he also participated in the Conclave that elected John Paul II.

The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with Pope John Paul II
The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with Pope John Paul II

He acted as rapporteur at the V Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held in 1980, on the theme: “Mission of the Christian family in the contemporary world”, and was President Delegate of the VI Ordinary General Assembly, held in 1983, on “Reconciliation and penance in the mission of the Church”.

John Paul II named him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and of the International Theological Commission on November 25, 1981. On February 15, 1982, he resigned from the pastoral government of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. Thus began a long period of close collaboration with the Polish Pope, Karol Wojtyla, which would only end with his death, whom Ratzinger succeeded as Pope.

He was president of the commission for the preparation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, after six years of work (1986-1992), was able to present a new Catechism to the Supreme Pontiff.

On November 6, 1998, John Paul II approved the election of Ratzinger as vice dean of the College of Cardinals, and on November 30, 2002, four years later, he approved his election as dean.

Since November 13, 2000, Joseph Ratzinger has been an Honorary Academician of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In the Roman Curia, he was a member of the Council of the Secretariat of State for Relations with States; of the Congregations for the Eastern Churches, for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments, for bishops, for the evangelization of peoples, for Catholic education, for the clergy and for the causes of saints; of the Pontifical Councils for the promotion of Christian unity and for culture; of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature; and of the Pontifical Commissions for Latin America, “Ecclesia Dei”, for the authentic interpretation of the Code of Canon Law and for the revision of the Eastern Code of Canon Law.

But the function with which he was most identified with the world was that of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for which John Paul II appointed him on November 25, 1981.

The speech he gave before the Bavarian Catholic Academy on the topic “Why am I still in the Church?”, in which, with his usual precision, he affirmed: “Only in the Church is it possible to be a Christian and not at the side of the Church.

He has received numerous “honoris causa” doctorates from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul (Minnesota, United States), in 1984; by the Catholic University of Eichstätt, in 1985; by the Catholic University of Lima, in 1986; by the Catholic University of Lublin, in 1988; from the University of Navarra (Pamplona, ​​Spain), in 1998; by the Free University María Santísima Asunta (LUMSA) Rome, in 1999; by the Faculty of Theology of the University of Wroclaw (Poland) in 2000.

On Friday, April 8, 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger presided at Holy Mass in Saint Peter’s Square for the Funeral of Pope John Paul II. Days later the most awaited phrase would be heard in that same square: “Habemus Papam”(‘We have Pope!’) . The chosen number 265 was Ratzinger himself, the new Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, and that night he chose by the name of Benedict XVI.

  Pope Benedict XVI finishes his last general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on February 27, 2013. (REUTERS)
Pope Benedict XVI finishes his last general audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on February 27, 2013. (REUTERS) (Alessandro Bianchi/)

On October 28, 2007, it approved the largest beatification that has taken place in the history of the Church: 498 people, mostly of Spanish nationality, including 47 Marist Brothers. And on May 1, 2011, beatified his predecessor, John Paul II -later canonized under the pontificate of Fancisco-, in a multitudinous ceremony that took place in Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Since the Middle Ages, no Pope had beatified his predecessor.

In addition, I push for a change in the rules for the papal election. In 2007 made the supermajority requirement of two-thirds of the cardinal electors absolute, repealing the passage to an absolute majority (half plus one) from the thirty-third ballot. Since then, only candidates with a very broad consensus can be “papable”.

One of the milestones of his papacy, and one of the most important events within the Church, occurred when the Vatican acknowledged that 4,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy had reached the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the last ten years.

During his eight years at the head of the Church, he faced Vatileaks, the scandal over the disclosure of Ratzinger’s private correspondence in 2010.

In 2013, Benedict XVI surprised the world and the Catholic Church by announcing his resignation, something that had not happened since Celestine V in 1294.

With Francisco in one of the few historic photos of
With Francis in one of the few historic photos of “the two popes” (Photo: Reuters)

After passing by, He assured that he would live “separated from the world” and, in fact, on very few occasions has he broken his silence, but two interview-books have been known in which he extensively detailed his decision.

In last conversation (Last conversations), written by the German journalist and biographer of the pope emeritus, Peter Sewaldthe emeritus pope reflects on his pontificate, on how he is accepting death, on Pope Francis, or the context in which he presented his resignation as successor to Peter. “The text of the resignation was written by me. I can’t say exactly when, but at most two weeks before. I wrote it in Latin because such an important thing is done in Latin.” said.

His decision was calm and considered, free of pressure and the result of a “peaceful state of mind” that allowed him to “quietly pass the helm” to his successor. “It was not a question of a withdrawal under pressure from events or a flight due to the inability to face them,” he maintained. Nor is it the result of disappointment or some kind of coercion: “I would not have allowed it” nor “would have renounced” the pontificate if I had been “under pressure,” he insisted.

In another of the chapters, he recalled his years at the head of the Catholic Church and made self-criticism by admitting that one of his weaknesses was “the lack of determination” that he had on some occasions when it came to “governing and making decisions.” “There were difficult moments, just think, for example, of the pedophilia scandal, the Williamson case or even the Vatileaks scandal.”

The unusual coexistence between the 265th pope emeritus and the 266th, the Argentine Francisco, passed without problems. Benedict XVI defended Jorge Bergoglio of the accusation that he had no theological training, something he flatly denied. Both pontiffs have met on several occasions, to talk and pray together, and Francisco has referred to his predecessor many times with affection and respect.

With information from EFE, AFP and ANSA