European leaders paid tribute to Pope Benedict XVI’s efforts to promote peace across the globe, while avoiding mention of his handling of the child-abuse scandals that marked his papacy.
Benedict, who was 95, passed away Saturday morning in his residence at the Vatican, almost a decade after he became the first pontiff in 600 years to step down.
“Benedict XVI was a giant of faith and reason,” said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. “A Christian, a pastor, a theologian: a great figure that history will never forget.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Benedict sent “a strong signal through his resignation. He saw himself first as a servant for God and his Church.” And added that “once his physical strength waned, he continued to serve through the power of his prayers.”
Irish President Michael Higgins said the former pope will be remembered for “his untiring efforts to find a common path in promoting peace and goodwill throughout the world.”
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said Benedict “left an undeniable spiritual and historical mark on us all,” while Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said he was “a great man who history will not forget.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also praised the ex-pontiff as “a staunch defender of traditional Christian values.”
Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, and his Czech counterpart, Petr Fiala, said Catholics lost a spiritual and intellectual leader.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, noted Benedict’s contribution to theology, as did German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, Lithuania’s Gitanas Nausėda, the U.K.’s Rishi Sunak and Poland’s Andrzej Duda. Welby said he was “one of the greatest theologians of his age — committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defense.” Sanchez said the former pope was “a great theologian at the service of others, justice and peace.”
For almost 25 years, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, archbishop of Munich, Benedict was head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
None of the European leaders reacting to Benedict’s death mentioned that his time at the head of the Catholic Church, from 2005-2013, featured allegations and legal claims of child abuse by priests.
The ex-pontiff admitted earlier this year that he had given false information during an investigation into child-abusing priests who remained in active pastoral care roles under his watch in southern Germany when he was Cardinal Ratzinger between 1977 and 1982. He said he was “very sorry for this mistake.”