The resignation of Benedict will be the pope’s final act.

Although Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had a long and distinguished career as one of the foremost theologians in the Roman Catholic Church, he will always be remembered as the first pope to step down in 600 years.
THE VATICAN — One of the most distinguished theologians in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has a long and distinguished career. But despite all his successes and honors, Benedict will always be remembered as the first pope to step down in 600 years.

Prior to becoming pope, Joseph Ratzinger, a former German Cardinal, oversaw the Vatican’s doctrine. Then, following his election as pope in 2005, he pursued the conservative path outlined by St. John Paul II by delivering intellectually challenging sermons that bemoaned how the world appeared to believe it could live without God.

On Saturday, Benedict passed away at the age of 95.

Here are some notable events from his life prior to, during, and following his eight-year pontificate.


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Ratzinger earned a reputation for punishing misguided theologians during his nearly 25-year tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, notably those who supported the Liberation Theology that was prevalent in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ratzinger published documents reiterating church teaching against homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia, and stating that salvation can only be sought in the Catholic Church as John Paul’s right-hand man on theological matters.

The Vatican’s most significant internal reform, however, was initiated by Ratzinger, who mandated that all reports of clergy sexual abuse be forwarded to his office for investigation. A growing body of data suggested that bishops were relocating clerical offenders rather than punishing them, which prompted the 2001 revision.


Ratzinger was the front-runner going into the conclave in 2005 following John Paul’s passing, and he was chosen on the fourth round of voting after the eventual winner, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Pope Francis, withdrew from consideration.

Benedict, who had large shoes to fill, set out to improve relations with China, the Orthodox Church, and to remind Europe of its Christian heritage.

However, throughout his eight years as pope, there were several communication gaffes, mistakes, and scandals that resulted in the Vatican prosecuting his former butler for allegedly leaking private correspondence to a reporter.

Relationships between Muslims and Jews

One of Benedict’s most important acts was his broad exoneration of the Jewish people for the killing of Christ, which became a defining characteristic of his pontificate and made outreach to Jews a priority.

He recognized that the crisis could have been prevented if someone at the Vatican had performed a quick online search for the bishop’s name, but he also infuriated Jewish groups when he restored a bishop who denied the existence of the Holocaust.

Benedict had more complicated relationships with Muslims. In a 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he shocked the Islamic community by quoting a Byzantine ruler who called portions of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings “evil and horrible,” particularly his injunction to propagate the faith “by the sword.”

The Al Azhar center in Cairo, the center of Sunni Muslim study, suspended relations with the Vatican after making a subsequent statement following the slaughter of Christians in Egypt; these relations were only resumed under Francis.


Benedict decided to make the historic statement in Latin that he will step down as pope, becoming the first to do so since Gregory XII in 1415, on February 11, 2013, a Vatican holiday with a regular audience with his cardinals.

While the world was shocked by the choice, Benedict had been toying with it for months. During a 2012 trip to Mexico, Francis experienced a midnight accident that convinced him he could no longer handle the demanding, travel-intensive demands of the 21st-century papacy.

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