By Julie Asher, Peter Jesserer Smith
WASHINGTON — 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 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.”
“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. “It will take many years for us to delve more deeply into the wealth of learning that he has left us.”
The USCCB president also praised Pope Benedict 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.”
“He recognized the great demands made of him as the chief shepherd of the Universal Church of a billion Catholics worldwide, and his physical limitations for such a monumental task,” Archbishop Broglio said.
But even in retirement, he said, Pope Benedict “continued to teach us how to be a true disciple of Christ, while still contributing to his legacy.”
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, whom Pope Benedict made a cardinal in 2006, praised the late pope’s “fidelity to maintaining the truth and clarity of the Catholic faith, cultivating ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, and reaching out to inspire the next generation of Catholics,” saying those attributes “have been great gifts to us all.”
“In all of my personal interactions with Pope Benedict XVI, I found him to be an engaged leader, thoughtful in his decisions and always committed to the mission of the Church,” Cardinal O’Malley continued in a statement.
Cardinal O’Malley recalled accompanying survivors of clergy sexual abuse to a meeting with Pope Benedict in Washington in 2008 during the pontiff’s pastoral visit to the United States, saying it was “perhaps the most moving experience for me.”
“It was a great privilege for me to be present at this meeting, as the Holy Father, in very personal ways, demonstrated his deep pastoral care for the survivors,” the cardinal said.
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.”
Cardinal O’Malley has been president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since its establishment in 2014.
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.
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. “The breadth and depth of his teachings have inspired many and are already considered part of the Church’s patrimony. May the Lord grant to this good shepherd eternal rest and abundant reward for his labors.”