February 8, 2023

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The life of Pope Benedict in pictures

A soft-spoken intellectual and scholar, Benedict XVI was the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics for eight years, sandwiched between the charismatic pope (now a saint) John Paul II (1978-2005), one of the longest-running papacy in the world history, and the reformist agenda of Pope Francis, who took office in 2013.

As a younger minister, Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, witnessed the opening of the Catholic Church to the modern world, set in motion by the reforms of Vatican II, of which he was theological adviser.

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s theological watchdog, he embraced orthodoxy, cracked down on dissident theologians, and spoke out against homosexuality, birth control and abortion, and the liberation theology movement in Latin America.

As Pope, he witnessed the increasing secularization of society and the growing disillusionment of the faithful with an institution seen as unwilling or unable to provide a vigorous response to the clergy abuse scandal that has swept the Church in recent decades has shaken.

He tried to address this crisis and became the first pope to meet with victims. He apologized for the abuse and excommunicated offending priests. But he was criticized for not going far enough and not punishing those who covered for perpetrators.

Benedict XVI is most likely remembered for resigning at the age of 85, realizing that because of his age his mental and physical abilities were “no longer fit for proper exercise” of church leadership. He wasn’t the first pope to resign, but that hadn’t happened in nearly 600 years. His decision set a precedent that even Francis pondered when he told a Spanish newspaper this month that earlier in his pontificate he had signed a letter of resignation, promising to resign if he was unable to perform his duties.

Here is a selection of images from Benedict’s long life.

Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber blessed Joseph Ratzinger in 1951 when he was ordained a priest in Freising Cathedral in southern Germany. Father Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI 54 years later.

Assumed office as archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, shortly before becoming a cardinal.

Pope John Paul II with Cardinal Ratzinger in Vatican City in 1979. The cardinal succeeded John Paul in 2005 and beatified his predecessor in 2011.

Cardinal Ratzinger, then Archbishop of Munich and Freising, said goodbye to believers on Munich’s Marienplatz in 1982. He was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and left the city for the Vatican.

Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican in 1997.

Priests of the Pontifical North American College in Rome rejoiced on April 10, 2005 as newly appointed Pope Benedict XVI. stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City to greet the crowd in the square.

Benedict, flanked by cardinals, greets the large crowd that had gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day of his election as the 265th Pope.

Bishop Piero Marini adjusting the pallium, a lambswool collar and part of the badge of office, of Benedict during his inaugural Mass April 24, 2005 in St. Peter’s Square.

Benedict arrives for a prayer during a visit to Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland in 2006.

The Pope at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul in 2006. The visit made him the second Roman Catholic pope to enter a mosque.

At a 2007 Mass in Brazil at São Paulo Cathedral with a poster announcing Benedict’s visit.

Pope Benedict XVI Arrived in Washington for his pastoral visit to the United States in 2008.

Benedict in New York City as he left Yankee Stadium in the “Popemobile” after celebrating Mass there in 2008.

The Pope prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2009 during an eight-day tour of the Middle East.

At his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican in 2009.

Queen Elizabeth II and Benedict greet school children outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, in 2010.

Crowds gathered to hear the Pope celebrate Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucíon in 2012.

Benedict announced his resignation at a gathering of cardinals in the Vatican on February 11, 2013. He was the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.

Benedict appeared for the last time as Pope on February 28, 2013 on the balcony of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy.

Pope Francis welcomed Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he returned to the Vatican from Castel Gandolfo in May 2013, ushering in an unprecedented era of a retired pope living side-by-side with an incumbent in the Vatican Gardens.

From left (seated): Horst Seehofer, then Prime Minister of Bavaria, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his brother Georg Ratzinger and others drinking beer on Benedict’s 90th birthday in the Vatican in 2017.

Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. during a ceremony to raise Roman Catholic prelates to the rank of cardinal in August at the Vatican.

Introductory text by Elisabetta Povoledo.