Former Pope Benedict is in a 'serious but stable' condition'

Former Pope Benedict is in a ‘serious but stable’ condition’: Vatican issues new update and says 95-year-old is ‘absolutely lucid and aware’

  • The former pope was taken ill over Christmas, the Vatican announced yesterday 
  • Benedict, 95, served as Pope from April 2005 until he resigned in February 2013
  • He stepped down due to old age but his papacy was wracked with scandals 

Former pope Benedict XVI remains in a serious but stable condition, Italian media reported Thursday, the day after the Vatican revealed the 95-year-old’s health had deteriorated.

‘His situation has not changed from yesterday,’ an unnamed source in contact with those around the 95-year-old German ex-pontiff told ANSA news agency, while the Vatican press service said: ‘The Pope Emeritus was able to rest well last night, he is absolutely lucid and alert today.

‘Although his condition remains serious, the situation at the moment is stable.’ 

Benedict, who in 2013 became the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign as head of the worldwide Catholic Church, has been in fragile health for many years and uses a wheelchair.

But Pope Francis sparked alarm on Wednesday by revealing at his general audience that his predecessor, whose birth name is Joseph Ratzinger, was ‘very sick’.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Munich airport before his departure to Rome in 2020

Pope Francis (right) hold hands with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he pays him a visit at the Vatican in November 2020

Francis called for people to pray for his predecessor, before going to visit Benedict at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican grounds where he lives.

The Vatican later confirmed the ex-pope’s health had worsened ‘due to advancing age’, while a Vatican source told AFP Wednesday that it began deteriorating ‘about three days ago’.

‘It is his vital functions that are failing, including his heart,’ the source said, adding that no hospitalisation was planned, as he has the ‘necessary medical equipment’ at home.

In response to the news, Catholic leaders from around the world said they would pray for him, from the United States to Benedict’s native Germany.

The Vatican also announced a special mass to be held on Friday at Rome’s Basilica of St John Lateran.

In 2013, Benedict had cited his declining physical and mental health in his shock decision to stand down.

His resignation created an unprecedented situation in which two ‘men in white’ – Benedict and Pope Francis – have co-existed within the walls of the tiny city state.

Former pope Benedict, 95, looks on as he receives the winners of the ‘Premio Ratzinger’ at the Vatican, December 1, 2022

People gather in St. Peter’s Square the day after the announcement of the worsening condition of former Pope Benedict’s health, at the Vatican, December 29, 2022

Benedict was 78 when he succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005.

He had previously served as the Church’s chief doctrinal enforcer, earning the nickname ‘God’s Rottweiler’ and a reputation as a generally conservative thinker on theological issues.

But his papacy was beset by Church infighting and the outcry over clerical sex abuse of children.

He became the first pontiff to apologise for the abuse that emerged around the world, expressing ‘deep remorse’ and meeting with victims in person.

But while he took key steps to tackle the scandal, Benedict was criticised for failing to end Church cover-ups, and the issue returned to haunt him in retirement.

A damning report for the German church in January 2022 accused him of personally having failed to stop four predatory priests in the 1980s while archbishop of Munich.

A portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is seen near the altar at the Cathedral of Regensburg, southern Germany on December 29, 2022, during a church service

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – who later became Pope Benedict XVI – in 1977

Benedict has denied wrongdoing, but in a letter released after the report, asked ‘for forgiveness’.

‘I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,’ he wrote.

But he failed to stamp his authority on the Curia, the Church’s governing body, and also appeared to have lost control of his household.

In 2012, his butler Paolo Gabriele leaked secret papers to the media, an act of betrayal which profoundly saddened the pontiff.

His papacy was also marred by a money-laundering scandal at the Vatican bank, which exposed infighting among Benedict’s closest allies.

Benedict was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years and cited advancing age as a key factor limiting his capabilities to carry out his papal duties. 

Francis previously hailed the decision of his predecessor to resign amid old age – it was his stepping down that paved the way for Francis’ election as the first pontiff from South America.

Pope Francis, 86, revealed that soon after his election in 2013 he submitted a resignation letter that would take effect should illness prevent him from fulfilling his duties

Earlier this month, the incumbent Pope revealed that he too submitted a resignation letter soon after his election in 2013 that would take effect should illness prevent him from fulfilling his duties. 

Francis, who turned 86 this year, said he gave the letter to then secretary of Vatican City State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. 

He is largely in good health, though in recent months has struggled with debilitating knee pain that left him in a wheelchair. 

He has since opted to use a cane during public appearances, though played down the affliction in an interview with Spanish newspaper ABC in which he declared: ‘One governs with the head not the knee.’

Francis made the comment when he was asked what happens if health issues suddenly leave a pope unable to do his job.

‘In practice there is already a rule,’ Francis revealed, adding, ‘I have already signed my renunciation.’

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