By Bill Heaney
Former Pope Benedict XVI has died at his Vatican residence, aged 95, almost a decade after he stood down because of ailing health.
He led the Catholic Church for less than eight years until, in 2013, he became the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.
Benedict, who visited Scotland in 2010, spent his final years at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery within the walls of the Vatican.
His successor Pope Francis said he had visited him there frequently.
The Vatican said in a statement: “With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican. Further information will be provided as soon as possible.”
Although the former pontiff had been ill for some time, the Holy See said there had been an aggravation in his condition because of advancing age.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis appealed to his final audience of the year at the Vatican to “pray a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict”, whom he said was very ill.
Born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany, Benedict was 78 when in 2005 he became one of the oldest popes ever elected.
For much of his papacy, the Catholic Church faced allegations, legal claims and official reports into decades of child abuse by priests.
Earlier this year the former Pope acknowledged that errors had been made in the handling of abuse cases while he was archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982.
Archbishop Leo Cushley, who worked closely with the late Pope in a role which involved accompanying him on overseas trips, has led tributes to the late Pope Emeritus.
He recalled the “wonderful reception” the Pope got from the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the memorable St Ninian’s procession through the city centre.
“I had never seen anything like it,” he said. “I don’t think the Pope had seen anything like it either as he was welcomed there. It was a wonderful day.”
Archbishop Cushley was part of the diplomatic service of the Holy See – the government of the Roman Catholic Church.
He replaced Dumbarton-educated Cardinal Keith O’Brien as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in September 2013.
The Archbishop said that during Pope Benedict’s trip to Scotland he had lunch at the official residence of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, which is now Archbishop Cushley’s home.
Some of the dignitaries and local people from Dumbarton and Helensburgh who attended the Papal Mass at Bellahouston Park in 2010. Pictures by Bill Heaney
From there the delegation travelled to Glasgow for the open air Mass at Bellahouston Park, which was the focal point of the last papal Visit to Scotland by Pope John Paul II in June 1982.
The Mass was attended by hundreds of Catholics from West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll, which is part of the Archdiocese of Glasgow.
“It was a beautiful autumn afternoon in the September sunshine, even though the Swiss guards had the collars of their jackets turned up and they thought it was perishing cold,” he said.
“It was a lovely, happy occasion where not only the Catholics of Scotland welcomed their Pope, the Bishop of Rome, many other people did that too.
“I could not have imagined it any better and, the way it worked out, I was very proud of the way my country welcomed Pope Benedict in their midst.”
Assessing his legacy, he compared Pope Benedict to a teacher.
Archbishop Cushley, right, added: “If he started talking about something in an Italian word, for example, he would say ‘Of course, that hides this Latin word which in turn hides this Greek word.’
“He was a considerable and formidable theologian but he did it effortlessly, he did it kindly.
“On a personal level I found him to be shy and to be a true gentleman.
“And it’s the way I have often thought of him, as a Bavarian gentleman with everyone he met.”
This included schoolchildren he personally greeted during his trip to Edinburgh.
Archbishop Cushley added: “He had a real kindness about him and came out to the gate to say hello to them.”
In 2013 Pope Benedict became the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years.
Archbishop Cushley said: “I remember when he made the announcement and it really did come as a surprise to us all.
“But he will be remembered for sort of making it OK, if necessary, for his successors to go because the sky didn’t fall down and we were able to function as a church and to function well, even with an emeritus Pope living in the Vatican gardens.”
He said it was hard to assess his legacy at the moment and suggested that may not be clear for about a century.
But he added: “Personally I think the thing that will survive, as survives so many important figures, is the writing that they leave behind and he has left behind many books that he wrote when he was simply Joseph Ratzinger and they are standing the test of time quite well, in my view.”
Archbishop Cushley said one work, Jesus of Nazareth, has been appreciated by people beyond the Catholic Church, including ministers of the Church of Scotland with whom the Catholic Church recently struck up a special alliance.
When the late Pope Benedict stepped on to the tarmac at Edinburgh Airport on 16 September 2010 he became the first pontiff to visit Scotland in 28 years.