Three little words from Pope Francis' mouth have caused concern for Benedict XVI among Catholics in Germany and around the world. awakened. "È molto ammalato" - he was "very ill," said Francis of his predecessor, the Pope Emeritus. He called on all believers to a "special prayer" for Benedict. "Think of him, he is very ill. And ask the Lord to comfort and support him in this testimony of love for the Church - to the end," said Francis at the general audience in the Vatican.
The Argentine then visited the former pontiff at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens, where Benedict has lived in relative isolation since his resignation in 2013. Matteo Bruni, spokesman for the Holy See, then announced this. Benedikt's health has deteriorated in the past few hours, the statement said. But the situation is “under control for the moment”. The emeritus pope from Germany is constantly being monitored by doctors, said Bruni.
Experts, confidants and believers then puzzled over how bad the 95-year-old's health really was. The Italian news agency Ansa reported, citing informed circles, that Benedikt had been worse for a few days and that he had had breathing problems before Christmas. There was initially no official confirmation of this.
"Stable in Weakness"
It has been known for a long time that Benedikt is physically weak and that it is very difficult for him to speak. "Stable in weakness," is how his longtime confidante and private secretary Georg Gänswein described the physical condition of Papa Emeritus. Mentally, however, Benedikt is still fit, it was often said. He also received visitors at irregular intervals. At the beginning of December, Benedict received this year's winners of the Ratzinger Prize, which the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. given to theologians and scientists in the name of the Pope Emeritus.
In an interview with the German Press Agency, Benedict biographer Peter Seewald rated the reports as “certainly very worrying”. Benedict himself has long been longing for his "going home," he said. "The situation is certainly very serious," said long-time companion and theologian Wolfgang Beinert. "But for a man approaching 100, that's not surprising."
call to prayer
The statements made by Francis at the very end of the general audience on Wednesday were somewhat surprising. The Argentine is known for his often spontaneous comments. Vatican experts were divided as to whether Francis really meant that Benedict was seriously ill or whether he was just saying that he was very weak due to old age. It is not unusual for him to visit his predecessor in the monastery at Christmas. In a tweet, Francis later repeated the request to pray for Benedict. The fact that he was “very ill” was no longer in the post.
Independently of this, other clergymen also called on people to pray for Benedict. "I join Pope Francis' call to prayer," said Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference. "My thoughts are with the Pope Emeritus. I call on the faithful in Germany to pray for Benedict XVI," added the Bishop of Limburg to the dpa.
The archbishop of Munich and Freising, Reinhard Marx, said in the morning in Bad Tölz, Upper Bavaria, at the diocesan opening of the carol singers' campaign in 2023 that he knew the news about Benedict's condition. "But for us, we are united in prayer." He last saw Benedikt, one of Marx's predecessors in office, in person in September. Regensburg's Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer reacted with "great concern" to the news from Rome.
First German Pope in almost 500 years
Joseph Ratzinger, born on April 16, 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, was elected Pope and successor to John Paul II in 2005. He was the first German Pope in almost 500 years. The spectacular resignation followed in 2013 - Benedict was the first to give up his pontificate after more than 700 years. He justified the step with his advanced age and his poor health - he lacked the strength for the demanding office, he said at the time.
He actually didn't want to be pope at all, he later said. As the successor of the charismatic Pole Karol Wojtyla, the "Pope of the Century" John Paul II, he didn't have it easy. The rather shy intellectual, who had been prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for more than two decades and thus the supreme guardian of Catholic doctrine, had not found contact with many believers. When he was Pope for five years, the Catholic Church fell into one of its most serious crises: from 2010, decades of child abuse and cover-ups gradually came to light.
Confronted with abuse scandals
Benedikt remained confronted with abuse scandals into old age and even after his resignation. A report from early 2021 accused him of having made mistakes in four cases of sexual abuse of a clergyman on children and young people during his time as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Benedict later apologized to all victims in a public letter.
Benedikt has not made any public appearances recently. He celebrated his 90th birthday again in 2017 with a delegation from his native Bavaria. After that he only received occasional visits to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. In the last few years he has, in his own words, been on a pilgrimage "home".