ROME – Pope Francis asked those present at his weekly audience on Wednesday to pray for the retired Pope Benedict XVI. to pray, whom Francis described as “very ill”. In their prayers, Francis said, people should ask God to comfort Benedict and “support him to the end in this testimony of love for the Church.”
Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesman, said in a statement that after the audience, Francis visited Benedict, 95, at the convent on Vatican City grounds where Benedict has lived since announcing his resignation in February 2013. Benedict was the first pope to step down in six centuries. He is becoming increasingly frail and has rarely appeared in public in recent years.
Mr. Bruni said Benedikt’s health had “deteriorated in the last few hours due to advancing age”. The situation, he added, “is currently under control and is being constantly monitored by doctors.”
When he resigned almost 10 years ago, Benedict had cited his declining health of both “mind and body”. He had said that his powers “due to advanced age” were “no longer suitable for adequate exercise” of the church leadership, which led to his decision to resign voluntarily and “for the good of the church”.
Since then he has mostly retired from public life and devoted himself to prayer and meditation.
“I would like to ask you all for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who quietly supports the Church,” Pope Francis said Wednesday at the end of his hour-long audience.
Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in 1927 and ordained a priest in 1951. Pope Paul VI made him archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, the same year he became a cardinal. Four years later, Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome, where he became prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office responsible for defending ecclesiastical orthodoxy, one of the Vatican’s most important positions. He headed the office for almost 25 years.
After the death of John Paul in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected his successor, taking the name of a fifth-century monk, Benedict of Norcia, who had founded monasteries that spread Christianity in Europe. The new Pope would be Benedict XVI. trying to re-evangelize a Europe that was struggling to keep its faith.
An intellectual who wrote several theological works, Benedict is considered to be conservative in his religious and social views. At the same time, he has adopted what many see as liberal stances in promoting environmentalism and criticizing capitalism, particularly during the financial crisis that erupted in 2008.
But his papacy was tarnished by the unresolved church sex abuse scandal, and the year before he resigned, an Italian journalist published a book based on insider documents detailing power struggles, corruption and a power struggle at the Vatican Bank.
When Benedict turned 95 in April, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former Pope’s longtime personal secretary, said Benedict was “in a good mood”. In an interview with Vatican News, a Vatican-controlled newspaper, Archbishop Gänswein said Benedict was “of course physically relatively weak and frail, but of sound mind.”
The Archbishop also said in the interview that Benedict read and edited letters and met with visitors, but found it difficult to be the main celebrant at Mass because he lacked the strength.
This month, Pope Francis honored Benedict during an awards ceremony named after his predecessor, noting the retired pope’s “spiritual presence and accompaniment in prayer.”
Pope Francis last visited Benedict in August with a group of prelates who had been elevated to cardinals that day.
A video released by the Vatican at the time showed a very frail Benedict receiving the greetings of the new cardinals. He and Francis blessed her at the end.
Church leaders joined Francis on Wednesday to pray for the retired pope. Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, said Benedict’s decision after the papacy to accompany the Church with prayer and reflection was “a strong message for the ecclesial community and for society as a whole”.