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Gerard O’ConnellDecember 28, 2022
Pope Francis greets retired Pope Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery after a consistory for the creation of 20 new cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Aug. 27, 2022. Looking on is Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the retired pope's private secretary. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

In a surprise statement at the end of his public audience on Dec. 28, Pope Francis asked people to say “a special prayer for the emeritus Pope Benedict” because “he is very ill.” The fact that Pope Francis broke the news, and that it has come through non-official channels, indicates that Benedict’s condition is critical.

More than an hour later, the Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, issued a statement to the media in which he confirmed that “in these last hours, there was a deterioration in his health due to advanced age.” He said the situation “at the moment remains under control” and is being monitored by the doctors of Pope Benedict XVI. He revealed that Pope Francis visited Benedict immediately after the public audience.

In a recent interview with a Spanish TV network, Francis described his predecessor as “a man of great spiritual life” who “lives in contemplation.”

Benedict was the eighth German pope in the history of the church and celebrated his 95th birthday on April 16, 2022. He was elected pope on April 19, 2005 as the successor to John Paul II, but surprised the world by announcing his resignation on Feb. 11, 2013. The resignation took effect on Feb. 28, 2013.

Those who have visited Benedict in recent times reported that while his mind is lucid, his physical condition has been deteriorating.

He has lived at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican Gardens, behind St. Peter’s Basilica, since some months after his resignation in February 2013, and has been cared for by four members of the Memores Domini consecrated women of the Communion and Liberation movement, as well as by the Rev. Georg Gänswein, the German monsignor who was his private secretary throughout his pontificate.

Pope Benedict XVI has lived in a Vatican monastery since some months after his resignation in February 2013.

Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict XVI on March 13, 2013, has always considered him “a wise grandfather in the home” and has consulted him from time to time. He has visited him on many occasions and has also been in contact with him by phone and by letter throughout Francis’ pontificate. Following a tradition that he set early in his pontificate, Francis has visited Benedict with every new batch of cardinals he has named. He did so again at the end of August; one of the new cardinals told America afterward that Benedict was physically very fragile but mentally lucid.

In a recent interview with a Spanish TV network, Francis described his predecessor as “a man of great spiritual life” who “lives in contemplation.” The pope emeritus, he said, “has a good sense of humor and is very lucid, very alive.”

Though Benedict’s advanced age and ill health has meant the Vatican has long been preparing for his passing, the announcement this morning of the deterioration in his health nevertheless came as a surprise.

Pope Francis asked those present at his public audience to pray for Benedict, and to “ask the Lord that he may console and sustain him in this testimony of love for the church.” The emeritus pope, he said, “is sustaining the church in silence.”

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