Former Pope Benedict XVI died at the age of 95

German predecessor Pope Francis became the first pope to step down as head of the Catholic church in 600 years

Pope Benedict XVI, who served as leader of the Catholic church from 2005 until his resignation in 2013, died Saturday aged 95, three days after his successor, Pope Francis, warned the world that he was seriously ill.

The Vatican announced that Francis would officiate at Benedict's funeral in St. Peter's Square on Thursday. Starting Monday, his body will lie in state in St. Peter's Basilica to allow the faithful to pay their respects.

Benedict's death ends an unprecedented period in recent history in which two popes lived side by side, a situation which has caused tensions within the rival camps of the Vatican. This makes it easier for his successor, Pope Francis, to weigh whether to follow Benedict by retiring at some point – unlikely while the result would be three popes. Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer paid warm tribute to Benedict, referring to his 2010 visit to England as a historic moment. Other world leaders including Ireland's Michael D Higgins, France's Emmanuel Macron, Italy's Giorgia Meloni and Germany's Olaf Scholz also paid tribute.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, said he was a scholar, pastor and man of God who will be remembered for his "courtesy, gentleness, sensitivity of mind and open welcome to everyone he met".

Justin Welby, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, said Benedict was "one of the greatest theologians of his time".

Earlier this week, Pope Francis announced during his weekly audience that Benedict was "seriously ill" and asked people to pray for him.

Benedict, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Germany in 1927, was a deeply conservative pope, whose tenure was overshadowed by scandals of sexual abuse in the church. He retired leaving behind a checkered reputation after a sometimes divisive papacy.

The son of a policeman, he grew up in rural Bavaria and at the age of 14 joined the Hitler Youth, a requirement, and served in the German army in the second world war. Toward the end of the war, he deserted and was briefly held as a prisoner of war by US forces.

He later became a major figure in the Vatican and, as Cardinal Ratzinger, served as the right-hand man of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. He headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican department formerly known as the Inquisition, for 24 years, a position that earned him the nickname "God's Rottweiler."

During his tenure, allegations of clerical sexual abuse and concealment began to surface. His critics say he fails to grasp the gravity of the crimes and the scale of the crisis, which peaked years after he was elected pope in April 2005.

As well as a flood of accusations, lawsuits and official reports of sexual abuse and the complicity of priests in covering it up, the Vatican has also been rocked by the theft of classified documents, many of which later appeared in revelations of alleged corruption. In October 2012, a Vatican court convicted the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, of stealing the letters. He told the trial he had acted against "crime and corruption".

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