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Benedict XVI, First Pope In Centuries To Resign, Dies At 95

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FILED - Then-Pope Benedict XVI walks off the podium at the Vatican after his last general audience in St. Peter's Square. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was the first pope to resign in centuries, has died at the age of 95, the Vatican announces. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a German theologian whose eight-year reign leading the Catholic Church ended in a shock resignation, died on Saturday at the age of 95, the Vatican announced.

“Sorrowfully, I must announce that Benedict XVI, pope emeritus, died today at 9:34 am (0834 GMT) in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

Joseph Ratzinger had been elected pope on April 19, 2005, succeeding John Paul II. He chose the name Benedict in honour of St Benedict, the 5th century founder of European monasticism.

He was the first German pope in some 480 years. Just under eight years later, on February 28, 2013, he voluntarily resigned in a spectacular move – the first pope to do so in more than 700 years. He cited his frail health, saying he lacked the strength for such a demanding job.

That cleared the way for the election of his Argentinian successor, Pope Francis. Since then, Benedict has lived in relative seclusion at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery on Vatican grounds.

Fresh alarm over Benedict’s health was raised on Wednesday, when Francis described him as “very sick” and called for prayers. Francis also went to visit his predecessor.

The Vatican has been vague about what ailed Benedict, saying only that his worsening health was due to his advanced age.

In his pontificate, Benedict continued the conservative course of John Paul II. He opposed modernization of the church on social issues like birth control, abortion and celibacy, earning him criticism, especially in Europe. His popularity in his native Germany waned.

His tenure was overshadowed above all by clerical abuse scandals that plunged the Catholic Church into a deep crisis.

©dpa

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