Former Pope Benedict XVI dies at 95

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Former Pope Benedict XVI dies at 95

Former Pope Benedict XVI has died, aged 95, almost a decade after he stood down because of ailing health.

He led the Catholic Church for fewer than eight years until, in 2013, he became the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.

Benedict spent his final years at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery within the walls of the Vatican where he passed away at 09:34 (08:34 GMT) on Saturday.

His successor Pope Francis will lead the funeral on 5 January.

The Vatican said the body of the Pope Emeritus will be placed in St Peter’s Basilica from 2 January for “the greeting of the faithful”.

Bells rang out from Munich cathedral and a single bell was heard ringing from St Peter’s Square in Rome after the former pope’s death was announced.

Benedict XVI was already 78 when he became Pope in 2005. Age and ill health quickly took their toll, prompting his resignation less than eight years later.

No other pope had stepped down since Gregory XII in 1415 and Benedict was the first to do so voluntarily since Celestine V in 1294.

When he became 265th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church it was the culmination of the rapid, and highly controversial, rise of Joseph Ratzinger.

Supporters portrayed him as a highly intellectual man who laboured to protect the spiritual inheritance bequeathed to him by Pope John Paul II.

To his critics he was the ultimate exponent and guardian of the Church’s dogmatic approach to issues like abortion and contraception. The outrage he sometimes caused seemed typical of a man who was never afraid of upsetting people – if he believed something had to be said or done.

Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger was born into a profoundly Catholic family on 16 April 1927, in the southern German state of Bavaria. He was the son of a police officer with, as he later put it, “simple country roots”.

His youth was indelibly marked by World War Two. Forced to join the Hitler Youth, he served in an anti-aircraft unit which defended a BMW plant outside Munich.

Later he dug anti-tank trenches before deserting in the dying days of the war. “In three days of marching, we hiked down the empty highway, in a column that gradually became endless,” Ratzinger recalled.

“The American soldiers photographed us, the young ones, most of all, in order to take home souvenirs of the defeated army and its desolate personnel.”

From 1946 to 1951, he studied philosophy and theology at Munich University. And, in June 1951, together with his brother Georg, he was ordained a priest.

After completing a doctorate in theology, Father Ratzinger, as he was, became a university professor, teaching dogma and fundamental theology at a number of places, including Freising, Bonn and Munster.

At the time, Ratzinger was a champion of the reformist liberal agenda that drove the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, after taking up a post at Tübingen University, in southern Germany, in 1966, he became a close friend of the leading liberal theologian, Hans Küng.