Pope Francis has said his retired predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is “very sick” and asked for God to comfort him until “the end”.
The pontiff did not reveal the nature of the illness affecting Benedict, but towards the end of his audience on Wednesday said: “I would like to ask for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who in silence is supporting the church. I remind you that he is very sick. Let’s ask the Lord to comfort him and support him in this testimony of love for the church until the end.”
Benedict, 95, resigned as pontiff in 2013 and has since lived within the walls of the Vatican. He chose to be called Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI after the abdication, instead of reverting to Joseph Ratzinger.
The unusual relationship between the liberal incumbent pope and the conservative ex-pope, who still wears the white cassock, inspired the film The Two Popes. Commentators have said that while Benedict’s body has become frailer, his mind has remained sharp.
Benedict has come forward on a variety of issues over the past decade, writing in 2019 that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and “homosexual cliques” among priests were to blame for the church’s paedophile-priest scandals. The opinion came two months after an unprecedented Vatican summit on tackling clerical sexual abuse, and sharply contrasted with that of Francis, who blamed the scandals on a clerical culture that elevates priests above the laity.
Benedict also wrote a letter complimenting Cardinal Joachim Meisner – a fierce critic of Francis who spoke out against the pontiff allowing remarried divorcees to receive holy communion – who died in 2017.
The results of a German investigation published in January said Benedict had failed to act against four priests accused of child sexual abuse when he was archbishop of Munich. Benedict was the first pope to retire in 600 years.
Pope Francis, who uses a wheelchair due to knee pain, has often alluded to his own resignation. He revealed in December that he had written a resignation letter shortly after being elected in case health issues prevented him from carrying out his duties.
He told the Spanish newspaper ABC: “I signed it and said: ‘If I should become impaired for medical reasons or whatever, here is my resignation. Here you have it.’”
Francis, who had bowel surgery in 2021, was forced to cancel a trip to Africa in July because of the knee pain.