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Benedict XVI: The first pope in over 600 years to resign

Pope Benedict XVI gained the title 'emeritus' when he stepped down in 2013
Pope Benedict XVI gained the title 'emeritus' when he stepped down in 2013 Copyright Pier Paolo Cito/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Pier Paolo Cito/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews
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In February 2013, the then Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world. He became the first pontiff since 1415 to resign from the role, leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.


In February 2013, the then pope Benedict XVI shocked the world. He became the first pontiff since 1415 to resign from the role, leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

He then became known under a new title, ‘emeritus’, meaning retired in English. 

Who was Pope Benedict, the first German pope in a thousand years?

Benedict was the first German pope elected to head the Catholic church in 1,000 years when he succeeded John Paul II in April 2005.

Then known as German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he became the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, choosing the name Benedict XVI.

His appointment came after he had headed the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1982 to 2005.

At the time, Benedict was labelled by one cardinal as a “safe pair of hands” but his eight-year papacy was marked by missteps and scandals.

Joseph Ratzinger was born to a Catholic family on 16 April 1927 in Marktl am Inn, a small village in southeast Germany. He spent much of his adolescence here, near the Austrian border.

He often described himself as a “Mozartian” and enjoyed playing the piano throughout his life.

After his 14th birthday in 1941, Ratzinger enrolled in the Hitler Youth amid hostility in Germany

Membership in the Nazi organisation was legally required at the time, and the teenage boy remained in the Hitler Youth to avoid tuition fees, later enrolling in the auxiliary anti-aircraft service at the end of World War II.

Ratzinger was eventually exonerated and even embraced by some Jews -- he called the Holocaust a "dark time" in his life.

After studying philosophy and theology at the University of Munich, he was ordained a priest in 1951, alongside his brother Georg.

Abuse scandals

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger then served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

This period of his life later came under particular scrutiny amid widespread allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Although his legacy was damaged by the scandal, Benedict was responsible for turning around the Vatican’s approach to abuse by the clergy.


He was the first pope to meet with victims of abuse and directed the church to pursue a path of humility by seeking forgiveness. In 2001, he ordered for all cases to be sent to his office for processing, once he saw that accused bishops were being moved from parish to parish and not being punished.

During the final two years of his pontificate, Benedict defrocked nearly 400 priests for abuse.

But in 2018, a church-commissioned report concluded that at least 3,677 people were abused by the clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014.

Another long-awaited report then accused Benedict of mishandling four sexual abuse allegations in the Munich archdiocese. He was criticised for failing to remove priests, even after they had been criminally convicted.


In February, Benedict asked for forgiveness for any “grievous faults”, but did not admit to any personal wrongdoing.

Earlier in his papacy, Benedict XVI had faced other criticisms and controversies.

In 2006, just one year after being elected, he caused ire when he suggested that Islam brought only evil to the world. Following days of protests, Benedict said he was "deeply sorry" and that his speech was misunderstood.

Less than three years later, he also angered Jews by rehabilitating four ultra-traditionalist bishops, including a Holocaust denier.


In 2012, the “Vatileaks” scandal – which unearthed financial corruption and blackmail – also shook Benedict’s papacy.

In a shock announcement in February 2013, the then-86-year-old said he lacked the "strength of mind and body" to run the Church and bowed out.

In his later years, Benedict grew increasingly frail as he dedicated his post-papacy life to prayer and meditation.

Francis, who visited the former pontiff shortly after his general audience on Wednesday (December 28), has often praised Benedict, saying it was like having a grandfather in the home.


One of the last known photographs of Benedict was taken on December 1, when he met the winners of a prize for theologians named after him.

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