The news of the death of Pope Benedict on 31st December 2022 greeted many of us with confusion as by this stage in our lives we have lived through the normal transfer of power from one pontiff to another. However, the end of Pope Benedict’s papacy did not conclude with his death but rather with his retirement nearly 10 years ago. He was the first Pope to do so for 6 centuries.
During his time as Pope, Benedict presided over some of its worst history as the church was beset with the scandal of sex abuse and we are left thinking that the conclusion of his papacy was more to do with ‘the sacrificial lamb approach’, rather than the natural conclusion one can expect of a papal reign. Pope Benedict retired at a younger age than the present Pope Francis who is now 86.
In an interview in 2010, Benedict XVI said,
‘If a Pope clearly realises that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation, to resign’, Benedict added, ‘One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on’.Pope Benedict
Just like John Paul II, Benedict left behind a spiritual testament apologising to ‘anyone I have wronged in any way’. He had been a reluctant Pope who inherited the task of following in the footsteps of the much-loved loved John Paul when he was elected the 265th leader of the Church on April 19, 2005. He was the oldest pope elected in 275 years and the first German in nearly 1,000 years. Born April 16, 1927, in Bavaria and only 12 when the Second World War broke out. He was like many others enlisted in the Nazi youth as membership was compulsory. He deserted the German army in April 1945.
Benedict was ordained, along with his brother, Georg, in 1951. After spending several years teaching theology in Germany, he was appointed Bishop of Munich in 1977 and made cardinal three months later by Pope Paul VI. In his spiritual will, he thanked his father, for his ‘lucid faith’ that taught his children to believe; his brother, also a priest, for his judgment and guidance; and his sister, who took care of him for decades and he called on the faithful to ‘Stay steady in the faith’.
Many tributes were paid to the late Pope following his death. Archbishop Martin referred to Pope Benedict’s admiration for the Irish missionaries who spread the Gospel in Europe from the sixth century onwards. Leading the Catholic Church for almost a decade, the son of a police officer and a cook, the first German elected as Pope in one thousand years, he was ultimately a ‘humble worker in vineyard of the Lord’. Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said Benedict will be remembered for his commitment to global peace including in Northern Ireland. Pope Francis praised his witness of faith and prayer, especially in these last years of his retired life, he continued. ‘Only God knows the value and strength of his intercession, of his sacrifices offered for the good of the Church’.
As a mark of respect Newry Cathedral bell will toll at 12noon and 3pm each day until the funeral. There is a book of condolences in the Cathedral for signing. The funeral will take place in St Peter’s Square on Thursday 5th January at 8.30am (UK time) and will be led by Pope Francis.