'Simple' funeral planned for pope emeritus Benedict, described by Francis as 'so noble, so kind'

A wealth of tributes flowed in from around the world for pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who died Saturday at age 95, while the Vatican said the late pontiff would be given a "simple" funeral, celebrated by Pope Francis, in keeping with his wishes.

Vatican says Francis will celebrate a solemn funeral in St. Peter's Square

Pope Benedict XVI, dressed in cream-coloured robes and a hat and a gold cross around his neck, raises his right arm.
Pope Benedict XVI has died at the age of 95. Here, he is pictured during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on April 26, 2006. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

Within minutes of the announcement of the death of pope emeritus Benedict XVI on Saturday morning, a wealth of tributes flowed in from around the world, while the Vatican revealed that the late pontiff would be given a "simple" funeral, celebrated by Pope Francis, in keeping with his wishes.

Words of praise and fond remembrance were offered by world leaders and religious figures, including the archbishop of Canterbury and Jewish advocates.

But some others, including LGBTQ+ advocates, were restrained in marking the passing of 95-year-old Benedict. Before being elected pontiff in 2005, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he had long served as the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, ensuring unwavering orthodoxy on issues including homosexual activity, which the Catholic church considers a sin.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said Francis will celebrate a solemn funeral in St. Peter's Square on Thursday with rites that, "following the desire of the pope emeritus, will be carried out in the sign of simplicity."

WATCH I The Vatican announces the death of Benedict XVI and funeral plans:

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI dies at age 95

3 months ago
Duration 3:45
Benedict XVI, who led the Roman Catholic Church through a period of transformation, controversy and scandal before becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, has died. He was 95.

"It is with emotion that we remember his person, so noble, so kind," Pope Francis said in his first public comments since his predecessor's death earlier Saturday.

"We feel in our heart such gratitude, gratitude to God for having gifted him to the Church and the world," Francis said in a homily in St. Peter's Basilica.

Benedict spent two more years in papal retirement than in the actual papacy, which had begun in 2005. Benedict died in the austere Vatican monastery where he had resided since shortly after shocking the world by retiring in 2013. Frail for years, Benedict's health worsened earlier in the week, according to the Vatican.

While pope, Benedict was head of state, since the Vatican is an independent city state. But with no such role at the time of his death, the Vatican's funeral details reflected a scaling back of pomp and protocol.

A man in cream robes with a tall hat and carrying a large gold cross reaches out his right hand toward the forehead of a child in a grey sweater, while others watch. Paintings can be seen all over the walls and ceiling of the room.
Pope Benedict celebrates baptisms in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on Jan. 8, 2012. Benedict resigned the following year, saying he no longer had the physical and mental strength to run the Catholic Church. (L'Osservatore Romano/Getty Images)

Only official delegations from Italy and Benedict's native Germany were invited to the funeral, although a letter from the Vatican's secretariat of state noted that "authorities from other countries who wish to may participate in a private capacity."

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called the former pope a "giant of faith and reason" that history will never forget.

'Humble pastor' and 'wise theologian'

"[Benedict] was an accomplished theologian and scholar, and he was an inspiration to millions," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet on Saturday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said "the world is losing a formative figure of the Catholic Church, a combative personality and a wise theologian."

The governor of Benedict XVI's native German region said that "we are mourning our Bavarian pope." Bavarian governor Markus Soder said on Twitter that "many people in his homeland will remember him not just as pope, but also as a humble pastor."

Polish President Andrzej Duda said Benedict's teaching was a "guide post among the many winding and deceptive paths of contemporary world. "

With Benedict out of the public's eye for nearly a decade, the turnout of the faithful for the outdoor funeral was also expected to be reduced, certainly compared to the outpouring of faithful for the last funeral of a reigning pope — St. John Paul II in 2005.

Smaller funeral crowd expected

Security officials in Rome were estimating that 60,000 people will flock to Thursday's funeral, Italian state television said. For John Paul, an estimated 300,000 mourners gathered at his funeral.

Starting on Monday morning, the faithful will be able to file by his body in St. Peter's Basilica, and viewing will also be held on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Two elderly men in cream-coloured outfits face each other, holding hands, while others look on.
Pope Francis, right, greets pope emeritus Benedict before a mass in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 28, 2014. After resigning, Benedict continued to live at the Vatican. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

There was no immediate estimate of how many might come. In 2005, tens of thousands waited for hours for a chance to view John Paul's body, at one point with the line 100,000 people long.

In the midst of the mourning, Francis went ahead with traditional year-end ceremonies, presiding over a solemn Vespers service early Saturday evening in St. Peter's Basilica.

Francis also planned to celebrate New Year's Day Mass on Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica. The Catholic church dedicates Jan. 1 to the theme of peace, a subject dear to Francis, who has repeatedly decried Russia's war in Ukraine and other longer-running conflicts in the world.

Francis would also keep to his tradition of strolling by the life-sized creche scene in the square, the Vatican said.

As the death announcement came, quietly by email from the Vatican press office, hundreds of tourists were admiring a towering Christmas tree in the square, many unaware that Benedict had died in his secluded residence in the Vatican Gardens.

'Path of reconciliation and friendship'

In a statement from New York, the American Jewish Committee praised Benedict for having "continued the path of reconciliation and friendship with world Jewry blazed by his predecessor, John Paul II." The organization noted that the German-born Roman Catholic church leader had "paid homage in Auschwitz" to the victims of the Holocaust and had made an official visit to Israel.

A man in cream robes sits in a white tower attached to the back of a white Mercedes vehicle. The car is surrounded by bodyguards wearing black suits. Members of the public can be seen waving signs behind barricades.
Pope Benedict, followed by security guards, arrives at London's Hyde Park aboard the popemobile on Sept. 18, 2010. (Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press)

"He condemned antisemitism as a sin against God and man, and he emphasized the unique relationship between Christianity and Judaism," the statement said.

Praise for Benedict's religious devotion came from the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. "In his life and ministry, Pope Benedict XVI directed people to Christ," the Anglican leader tweeted.

"I join with Pope Francis and all the Catholic Church in mourning his death. May he rest in Christ's peace and rise in glory with all the Saints."

Dubbed "God's Rottweiler" for his fierce defence of Catholic teaching in the decades that he led the Vatican doctrinal orthodoxy office, Benedict was viewed less enthusiastically by some for his stance on homosexuality and against women's desire to break with the church's ban on female priests.

In that role, Ratzinger "had an outsized influence on the Church's approach to gay and lesbian people and issues," said Francis De Bernardo, executive director of the U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics.

Catechism described same-sex 'depravity'

He noted that Ratzinger in 1986 helped shape a document that called homosexual orientation as "an objective disorder," and his involvement in a 1994 Catechism describing sexual activity between people of the same gender as "acts of grave depravity."

"Those documents caused — and still cause — grave pastoral harm" to many LGBTQ+ people, De Bernardo said, while noting that his organization was praying for the repose of Benedict's soul.

Francis has used his papacy to try to set a less judgmental tone against gay Catholics.

While hailing Benedict's "profound example of humility and willingness to overturn tradition" by resigning, advocates for opening up the priesthood to women expressed dismay over his refusal to embrace their aims.

Benedict stunned the world on Feb. 11, 2013, when he announced, in his typical, soft-spoken Latin, that he no longer had the strength to run the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic Church that he had steered for less than eight years.

His dramatic decision to resign paved the way for the conclave that elected Pope Francis as his successor. The two popes then lived side-by-side in the Vatican gardens, an unprecedented arrangement that set the stage for future "popes emeritus" to do the same.

Ran church through fallout of sex abuse scandal

The first German pope in 1,000 years, Benedict himself acknowledged that he was a weak administrator, saying he showed a "lack of resolve in governing and decision taking," during his papacy, which was marked by missteps and a leaks scandal.

The former cardinal had never wanted to be pope, planning at age 78 to spend his final years writing in the "peace and quiet" of his native Bavaria.

Instead, he was forced to follow the footsteps of the beloved St. John Paul II and run the church through the fallout of the clerical sex abuse scandal and then a second scandal that erupted when his own butler stole his personal papers and gave them to a journalist.

Being elected pope, he once said, felt like a "guillotine" had come down on him.

With files from Reuters and CBC News