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Pope Benedict XVI’s health is worsening, Vatican says – USA TODAY

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Pope Francis is asking the faithful for their prayers as the health of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI worsens.

Speaking on Wednesday, Francis departed from his prepared remarks to announce that Benedict is “very sick.” He didn’t elaborate on the condition of Benedict, 95.

“I’d like to ask all of you for a special prayer for Emeritus Pope Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the church,” Francis said in remarks near the end of an hourlong audience. “I remind you that he is very sick.”

The Vatican said Francis had visited Benedict, who retired in February 2013, citing poor health. The Roman Catholic Church has about 1.3 billion members worldwide.

What to know about Benedict

  • Born in 1927 in what is now Germany as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, Benedict was selected pope in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II and officiated at his funeral.
  • As a teenager, Ratzinger was drafted into the Nazi Germany military but deserted and was held captive by American troops. He became a priest shortly after.
  • Benedict served as the 265th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church from April 2005 to February 2013, a time in which the church was under worldwide criticism for its handling of sexual abuse committed by priests and volunteers.
  • Known for his conservative views, Benedict held a doctorate in theology and served for a little less than 10 years as pope before stepping down, citing his mental and physical health.
  • He was the first pope to resign since the 1400s; popes usually serve until their death.

Major issues during Benedict’s papacy

Benedict inherited a church under widespread and growing criticism over sex abuses committed by priests and volunteers, which church leaders had covered up for decades. Many dioceses were forced to close or consolidate during his papacy because of the large financial settlements paid to victims and their families.

PARDON SOUGHT: Retired Pope Benedict XVI asks pardon for clergy sex abuse cases

An expert in religious doctrine, Benedict was known as a conservative and took several steps to return the church to more traditional practices and beliefs. But he also upset many American Catholics who had hoped to see a liberalization around the role of women in the church.

Benedict also made comments that offended some Jews and Muslims. In 2006 he made a historic trip to Turkey, where he prayed at a Muslim mosque.

Worsening health

When Benedict turned 95 in April, his longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, said the retired pontiff was in good spirits, adding that “naturally he is physically relatively weak and fragile but rather lucid.”

Benedict had adopted the title pope emeritus and lived in a monastery on the Vatican grounds in retirement.

Francis also paid a visit to Benedict at the monastery four months ago. The occasion was Francis’ latest ceremony elevating churchmen to cardinal rank, and the new “princes of the church” accompanied him to the monastery for the brief greeting.

The Vatican released a photo at the time that showed a very thin-looking Benedict clasping Francis’ hand as the current and past pontiff smiled at each other.

In his first years of retirement, Benedict attended a couple of cardinal-elevating ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica. But in recent years, he wasn’t strong enough to attend the long service.

Dig deeper

PRIEST DEFROCKED: Vatican defrocks Frank Pavone, anti-abortion activist

RESIGNATION LETTER Letter comes to light after pontiff turns 86

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Where are the priests accused of sexual abuse?

‘GRAVE EVIL’: Pelosi denied Holy Communion by San Francisco archbishop

Contributing: The Associated Press

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