Pope Benedict XVI, the German-born theologian who stunned the Roman Catholic Church by resigning in 2013 after eight years leading the church, died Saturday morning at age 95, the Vatican announced.
His dramatic decision paved the way for the elevation of the Argentine-born Pope Francis, who is due to preside over Benedict’s funeral mass on Thursday.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was an intellectual leader of the conservative wing of Catholicism, a defender of traditional orthodoxy on issues like the church’s opposition to contraception, homosexuality and married priests.
But his papacy, which followed the 27-year run of the popular John Paul II, was marked by scandal — including fallout from revelations of sex abuse by priests worldwide and then after his own butler’s leaking of personal papers to a journalist that revealed dissension within the ranks of the church hierarchy.
In 2013, the soft-spoken Benedict became the first pope in nearly 600 years to step down from the role, but broke with tradition by choosing to remain living within the Vatican and to wear white robes associated with the papacy.
Benedict inspired devotion from conservative Catholics who saw him as a bulwark against forces of modernism and relativism, but his professorial bent seldom created the kind of personal attachment as either his predecessor or his successor.
His conservative views got an airing in the Oscar-nominated 2019 film “The Two Popes,” which imagined a pre-resignation meeting between Francis (played by Jonathan Pryce) and Benedict (played by Anthony Hopkins). Both actors received Oscar nominations for their performances, along with screenwriter Anthony McCarten.