Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI remains in “grave” but stable condition, the Vatican has said, adding that he had rested well during the night and was lucid and aware.
Pope Benedict had complained of “respiratory problems” before Christmas, but he has long been in fragile health.
The 95-year-old, who in 2013 became the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign as head of the worldwide Catholic Church, has been in fragile health for many years.
But Pope Francis sparked alarm yesterday by revealing at his general audience that his predecessor, whose birth name is Joseph Ratzinger, was “very ill”.
He called for people to pray for him, before going to visit Pope Benedict at the monastery in the Vatican grounds where he lives.
The Vatican later confirmed his health had worsened and deteriorating “about three days ago”.
“It is his vital functions that are failing, including his heart,” the source said, adding that no hospitalisation was planned as he has the “necessary medical equipment” at home.
Concern for Benedict XVI‘s health was raised on Wednesday when Pope Francis concluded the General Audience with an invitation to the faithful to pray for his 95-year-old predecessor who, he said, is very ill.
Vatican said Pope Francis “renews his invitation to pray for him [Benedict XVI] and to accompany him in these difficult hours.”
Pope Benedict had cited his declining physical and mental health in his decision to stand down.
His resignation created an unprecedented situation in which two “men in white” – Benedict and Pope Francis – have co-existed within the walls of the tiny city state.
Pope Benedict was 78 when he succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005.
He was known for being a brilliant theologian, but his papacy was beset by Church infighting and the outcry over clerical sex abuse of children.
He became the first pontiff to apologise for the abuse that emerged around the world, expressing “deep remorse” and meeting with victims in person, but critics said he did not do enough.
In 2012, his butler Paolo Gabriele leaked secret papers to the media, an act seen as betrayal which profoundly affected the pontiff.
His papacy was also marred by a money-laundering scandal at the Vatican bank, which exposed infighting among Pope Benedict’s closest allies.
Pope Benedict had cited his declining physical and mental health back in 2013 in his decision to become the first pope since 1415 to stand down as head of the worldwide Catholic church.
The pope emeritus has since lived a quiet life, rarely appearing in public.
He was the first German pope for 1,000 years.
In 2018, in a letter sent to Italy’s Corriere della Sera daily, Pope Benedict described “the slow withering of my physical forces”, saying he was “on an interior pilgrimage towards home”.
Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech said in 2020 that Benedict “has difficulty in expressing himself”.
The pope emeritus, who uses a wheelchair, said “the Lord has taken away my speech in order to let me appreciate silence”, Cardinal Grech told Vatican News.
In April, Pope Benedict’s long-time secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, told Vatican News he was “physically relatively weak and fragile”, but “in good spirits”.
Pope Emeritus Benedict was 78 when he succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005.
A damning report for the German church in January 2022 accused him of personally having failed to stop four predatory priests in the 1980s while archbishop of Munich.
The Pope emeritus has denied wrongdoing and the Vatican has strongly defended his record.
Unlike his successor Pope Francis, a Jesuit who delights in being among his flock, Pope Benedict is considered a conservative intellectual.
He was dubbed “God’s Rottweiler” in a previous post as chief doctrinal enforcer.
But as pontiff he appeared overwhelmed by the challenges facing a Church that was losing influence and followers, and the years of Vatican turmoil took their toll.
He stepped down in February 2013 in an announcement delivered to cardinals in Latin, later saying the decision was the result of a mystical experience.
Pope Francis, 86, has said he may also resign at some point.
He revealed for the first time in an interview this month that he had signed a resignation letter nearly a decade ago should poor health prevent him from carrying out his duties.