Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s health has suddenly «deteriorated» in recent hours, the Vatican said Wednesday after Pope Francis called for prayers for the former pontiff.

The Holy See said Benedict was receiving constant medical attention.

“I would like to ask everyone for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who, in silence, is supporting the church,” Francis said at the end of his general audience on Wednesday. «He is very sick, asking the Lord to console him and sustain him in this testimony of love for the church, until the end.»

Later, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni added: «I can confirm that in the last few hours his condition worsened due to age. The situation at the moment is under control, constantly monitored by doctors.”

Benedict XVI, 95, became the first pope in more than 600 years to resign in 2013, citing his advancing age and waning strength amid the clerical sex abuse scandal that engulfed the church. He has been living in the Vatican ever since.

Formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, Benedict was born in Marktl, Bavaria, in 1927. Benedict was conscripted into the German anti-aircraft corps at age 16 and briefly detained by American troops in 1945 before being released again at the seminary.

In 1951, Benedict XVI was ordained and became head of the Catholic Church in 2005 at the age of 78.

An independent report in January found that the former pope had failed to act in four sexual assault cases when he served as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. He later apologized for his handling of the cases but did not admit wrongdoing.

The former pope has largely stayed out of the public eye since his retirement.

Claudio Lavanga reported from Rome, Rhoda Kwan reported from Taipei.