WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Across the U.S., Catholic bishops called on the faithful to unite in mourning for retired Pope Benedict XVI, who died on the eve of the new year.
“While we grieve that he is no longer with us here, I join Catholics everywhere in offering my profound gratitude to the Lord for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI and his ministry,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Together we beg our Lord to grant him eternal rest.”
Benedict XVI (1927-2022) passed away Dec. 31 at 95 years old, nearly a decade after resigning the papacy — an event not seen in 600 years. He led the Catholic Church as pope from 2005-2013, previously served under Pope St. John Paul II for more than 20 years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was one of the last living participants at the Second Vatican Council.
Archbishop Broglio, who also heads the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, said Benedict’s passing “sounds contrasting notes of sorrow and gratitude in my heart.” The Dec. 31 statement noted the late retired pope was “a superb theologian” and “effective teacher of the faith” who left a wealth of learning for the whole Church.
“As a priest, university professor and theologian, archbishop and cardinal, his voice in deepening an authentic understanding led all of us to a more profound love of truth and the mystery of God,” he said.
The USCCB president also praised Pope Benedict XVI for his decision to retire from the papacy in 2013 – a move that “shocked the world” but “continued his teaching about courage, humility and love for the Church.”
Even in retirement, he said, Pope Benedict XVI “continued to teach us how to be a true disciple of Christ, while still contributing to his legacy.”
From coast-to-coast, tributes to Pope Benedict XVI from U.S. Catholic bishops kept pouring in, reflecting on his legacy, virtues, and his love of Christ.
“His long life included not only his ecclesial contributions, but his impassioned pleas for world peace, human understanding, and global solidarity,” Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, said in a statement praising Benedict’s distinguished and generous life in service to Catholicism and humanity.”
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, whom Pope Benedict XVI made a cardinal in 2006, and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since its establishment in 2014, said in a statement that he always found the late pope to be “an engaged leader, thoughtful in his decisions and always committed to the mission of the Church.”
Cardinal O’Malley recalled Pope Benedict XVI’s “deep pastoral care for the survivors” when the cardinal accompanied survivors of clergy sexual abuse to a meeting with the pope in Washington during the pontiff’s 2008 pastoral visit to the United States. He said it was “perhaps the most moving experience for me.”
The pope “recognized the pain experienced by survivors and all persons impacted by the abuse crisis,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “He was then, and at all times remained, committed to the Church supporting their journey toward healing and doing all that was possible to ensure the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults.”
Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Tennessee, noted Pope Benedict XVI was “well prepared to serve when elected to lead the Church as successor to St. John Paul II,” and that his “strength and compassion … carried the world through periods of moral, political, and societal challenges on the firm footing of the depth and breadth of Catholic teaching.”
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, called on his diocese to both “unite in prayer” for the retired pope as they mourn and also give thanks to God for Benedict’s “example and witness.”
“A devoted student of the Word of God and steeped in the Church’s liturgical and theological tradition, he was able to engage the modern world with intellectual clarity and pastoral charity,” Bishop Burbidge said.
As a scholar and churchman his whole life, Pope Benedict XVI “showed us what it means to fulfill the ancient command to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago.
“As the last pope who attended the Second Vatican Council, he has served as a bridge to the future, reminding us all that the reform and renewal of the church is ongoing,” the cardinal said in a Dec. 31 statement.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston also noted Pope Benedict XVI’s “first-hand” knowledge of Vatican II’s teaching, and said his scholarly work will shape the church for years to come. His statement said the former pope’s “keen intellect invigorated the New Evangelization by drawing hearts and minds into the mystery of our redemption in Christ, and inspiring countless men and women to spread the Gospel by the example of their lives.”
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said Pope Benedict XVI’s passing “marks the loss of one of the world’s greatest theologians and pastors of souls of the 20th and early 21st centuries.”
“Many generations to come will benefit from the breadth and depth of his understanding of our faith tradition and ability to communicate it clearly and effectively,” he said in a statement provided to OSV News by his communications office. “For those of us who have had the great blessing of interacting with him on a personal level, we will always be inspired by his gentleness, kindness, wit and ability to listen with respect and compassion.”
Many U.S. bishops also reflected on how Pope Benedict XVI’s intellectual contributions and humility went hand-in-hand, rooted in a life of following Jesus Christ.
Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison, Wisconsin said one found in Pope Benedict XVI “a remarkable convergence of the soul, intellect, heart and will of a man radically convicted of the truth of the Gospel and fully dedicated to serving the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.”
“He knew who he was before the Lord, without pretense or artifice,” Bishop Hying said in a statement. “This humility grounded him through the trials, difficulties, and controversies of his varied and demanding life, poured out for Christ and the saving truth of our beautiful Catholic faith.”
Pope Benedict XVI also was a “man of true humility” who radiated “quiet, authentic joy in Christ,” said Ukrainian Catholic archbishop Borys Gudziak of Philadelphia in a Facebook post written originally in Ukrainian. “In an age of flaunted raw ambition, he did not cling to power. He lived eucharistically. He witnessed a spiritual peace, a focus on the Lord, a profound goodness, forged by the capacity to say ‘I am sorry.'”
Cardinal Robert W. McElroy of San Diego also reflected on Pope Benedict XVI’s death with “sadness and gratitude,” saying he served God “with sacrifice and courage, brilliance and wisdom, humility and kindness for his entire life.”
“He was a theologian of immense depth, a caring pastor and a prayerful servant who unswervingly sought to follow the pathway to which God was calling him,” Cardinal McElroy said.
“In loving Jesus Christ he brought grace to the Church and ennobled or world.”