Former pope Benedict XVI dies aged 95

Former pope Benedict XVI has died at the age of 95, the Vatican announced Saturday, almost a decade after he became the first pontiff to resign in six centuries.

Pope Benedict
In this file photo taken on December 25, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI delivers the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

“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,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

The German pope emeritus, whose birth name was Joseph Ratzinger, had been living a quiet life in a former convent inside the Vatican grounds since his shock decision to step down in February 2013.

His health had been declining for a long time, but the Vatican revealed on Wednesday that his situation had worsened, while his successor Pope Francis called for Catholics worldwide to pray for him.

His death brings to an end an unprecedented situation in which two “men in white” – Benedict and Francis – had co-existed within the walls of the tiny city state.

While there is no rulebook for former popes, Benedict’s funeral is expected to be at the Vatican, presided over by Francis.

In 2005 the body of John Paul II, the last pope to die, lay in state before a funeral mass in St Peter’s Square attended by one million people, including heads of state.

Scandal and in-fighting

Benedict had almost entirely withdrawn from public view, his health reported to be shaky and the few photographs that emerged of him exposing his frailty.

Back in 2013, he had cited his declining physical and mental health in his decision to become the first pope since 1415 to give up the job as head of the worldwide Catholic church.

Benedict was a brilliant theologian but his papacy was beset by Vatican in-fighting and a scandal over clerical sexual abuse of children that rocked the Catholic Church the world over, in which he was criticised for a lack of leadership.

The abuse scandal overshadowed his final months after a damning report for the German church in January 2022 accused him of personally failing to stop four predatory priests in the 1980s while archbishop of Munich.

He denied wrongdoing and the Vatican strongly defended his record in being the first pope to apologise for the scandals, who expressed his own “deep remorse” and met with victims.

Born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, in Bavaria, Benedict was 78 when he succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005, the first German pope of the modern era.

He later said his election felt “like the guillotine”.

Unlike his successor Pope Francis, a Jesuit who delights in being among his flock, Benedict was a conservative intellectual dubbed “God’s Rottweiler” in a previous post as chief doctrinal enforcer.

His papacy was dogged by controversy, from comments that angered the Muslim world to a money-laundering scandal at the Vatican bank and a personal humiliation when, in 2012, his butler leaked secret papers to the media.

Despite saying he would live “hidden from the world” after his resignation, he repeatedly intervened on key issues facing the Church through books, interviews and articles.

In January 2020, he expressed his opposition to allowing priests to marry.

A year earlier, he blamed clerical abuse scandals on the 1960s sexual revolution and a collapse in faith in the West.

In an interview in March 2021, he said “there is only one pope”, but acknowledged “fanatical” supporters who refused to accept his resignation.

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Driver arrested after ramming car through Vatican gate

Police arrested a man who used his car to force a gate at the Vatican City on Thursday evening after he was refused entry, said officials at the Holy See.

Driver arrested after ramming car through Vatican gate

The incident happened just after 8pm, when the man pulled up to the Santa Anna gate – one of the main entrances to the Vatican.

After the Swiss Guard on patrol turned him away as he didn’t have an entry pass, he came back driving “at great speed, forcing the two checkpoints,” according to an official statement.

A member of the Vatican gendarmes reportedly fired a shot at the speeding car’s front tyres, but the car kept moving.

Officers sounded an alert and all other access points to the Vatican were sealed off, as well as the main gate to the piazza in front of Pope Francis’s residence.

Once the car reached the central San Damaso courtyard – where Pope Francis regularly holds meetings during the day – the driver got out of his own accord and was immediately arrested by Vatican gendarmes. 

The unidentified driver was subjected to a medical examination which determined that he suffered from a “serious psychophysical” condition.

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The man was being detained in a cell at the Vatican pending an investigation, the statement said.

It was not clear whether Pope Francis, who lives on the other side of the Vatican, was anywhere near the incident. 

Though incidents of this type are rare, this was not the first time that someone has caused a disturbance at the Vatican. 

In 2009, during Christmas Eve Mass, a woman jumped the barricade of St Peter’s Basilica and tried to attack Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope was not harmed, though a cardinal walking in the procession broke his hip in the commotion.