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President Biden, U.S. political figures, offer condolences following death of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI meets with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Vatican in this 2011 file photo. Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, issued a statement of condolence upon the death of Pope Benedict XVI Dec. 31. (CNS photo/Chuck Kennedy, courtesy White House)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — After the Vatican announced the death of Pope Benedict XVI, 95, on New Year’s Eve, U.S. political leaders and Catholic lawmakers issued statements in memory of the retired pope who led the global Catholic Church from 2005-2013.

In a Dec. 31 statement, President Joe Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, said he and first lady Jill Biden “join Catholics around the world, and so many others, in mourning the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.”

“I had the privilege of spending time with Pope Benedict at the Vatican in 2011 and will always remember his generosity and welcome as well as our meaningful conversation,” Biden said.

Biden said Pope Benedict XVI “will be remembered as a renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith.”

“As he remarked during his 2008 visit to the White House, ‘the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity,'” Biden said. “May his focus on the ministry of charity continue to be an inspiration to us all.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy included a 2008 trip to the United States, where he was hosted by then-President George W. Bush, in a visit that included a celebration of the pontiff’s 81st birthday.

The offices of Bush and former President Barack Obama, who also met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2009, did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Former Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Catholic Democrat from Illinois, told OSV News in an interview that Benedict will be remembered for “his great insights,” which he provided the Church in his writings.

Lipinski was part of the U.S. congressional delegation that attended Pope Benedict XVI’s 2005 installation Mass, and joined both the 2008 White House ceremony welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to the U.S. and the papal Mass celebrated at Washington’s Nationals Park.

Lipinksi recalled that President Bush, who was not Catholic, met Pope Benedict XVI on the tarmac when he landed at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, in 2008, which “showed his respect” for not only the pontiff but for the Catholic Church and Catholics. In 2015, President Barack Obama similarly greeted Pope Francis upon the occasion of his pastoral visit to the U.S.

Lipinski said Benedict was sometimes placed in a political box by those who sought to label him as a conservative or tried to pit him against Pope Francis rather than accept the breadth of his advocacy for all church teaching.

The former lawmaker cited Benedict’s comments on the “dictatorship of relativism” as something that inspired him during his own public service. Lipinski, one of the last Catholic Democrats to consistently vote for pro-life legislation in Congress, ended up losing his seat in 2020 to a primary challenger heavily backed by abortion lobby groups rather than compromise his pro-life principles.

“A lot of people took that just as a comment on our society, which it was,” he said. “But I think it’s a warning for each one of us individually as we try to live in this society.”

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a Catholic political leader known to break publicly with the pope over the issue of legal abortion, also offered her condolences.

“Paul and I join our fellow Catholics in mourning the passing of Pope Benedict XVI: a global leader whose devotion, scholarship and hopeful message stirred the hearts of people of all faiths,” she said.

Pelosi said she was spiritually moved by Pope Benedict’s “powerful encyclical, ‘God is Love,’ where he quotes St. Augustine highlighting our moral duty as public servants to fight for justice.”

“Officially, it was my privilege to visit His Holiness in the Vatican and, in 2008, to join in welcoming him to our nation’s capital,” she added. “May it be comfort to His Holiness Pope Francis and the Vatican community that so many pray for Pope Benedict during this sad time.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is Baptist, wrote on Twitter he was “Saddened to hear of the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a brilliant scholar and leading light for Catholics the world over. May he rest in peace.”

Other Catholic lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle took to Twitter to react to news of the pope emeritus’ death.

Catholic Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., wrote on Twitter, “I join the faithful of the Catholic Church in mourning the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.”

“He was a prolific writer and a strong defender of the Church,” Rounds said. “He will be remembered as a quiet and humble servant.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, also Catholic, wrote on Twitter, “May Pope Benedict XVI’s soul and lifetime of dedication to faith, hope, charity, peace, and good works continue to inspire the people of our precious world.”

Lawmakers of other faiths or Christian denominations also expressed condolences. Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter that he and his wife “are praying for peace and comfort for our Catholic neighbors and friends as they grieve his loss.” He pledged to deliver condolence cards and letters to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., on behalf of his constituents.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.

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