His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on April 16, 1927 in Bavaria, Germany. He is the reigning
265th pope, serving as the bishop
of Rome, Patriarch of the West, head of the Roman Catholic
sovereign of Vatican City.
He was elected on April 19, 2005, in the papal conclave which he presided
over in his capacity as Dean of the College of Cardinals.
Early life (1927 - 1951).
Background and childhood (1927 - 1943).
Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born on (The Saturday before Easter; the
last day of Lent) Holy Saturday, at Schulstrasse 11, his parents' home
am Inn, (A state in southwestern Germany famous for its beer; site
of an automobile factory) Bavaria. He was the third and youngest child
of (Click link for more info and facts about Joseph Ratzinger, Sr.)
Joseph Ratzinger, Sr., a police officer, and his wife, Maria Ratzinger
(nee Riger), who worked as a barmaid, and whose family were from South
Tyrol (today part of (A republic in southern Europe on the Italian
the core of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire between the 4th
century BC and the 5th century AD) Italy). His father served in both
the Bavarian State Police and the German national Regular Police
before retiring in 1937 to the town of Traunstein. The Sunday Times
of (The capital and largest
city of England; located on the Thames in southeastern England; financial
and industrial and cultural center) London described the elder Ratzinger
as "an anti-Nazi whose attempts to rein in Hitler's Brown
Shirts forced the family to move several times". According to
the International Herald Tribune, these relocations were directly
related to Joseph Ratzinger,
Sr.'s continued resistance to Nazism, which resulted in demotions and
transfers. The pope's brother Georg said: "Our father was a bitter
enemy of Nazism because he believed it was in conflict with our faith".
His brother, Georg, who also became a priest as well as a musician
and medievalist, is still living. His sister, Maria Ratzinger, who
never married, managed her brother Joseph's household until her death
in 1991. Their grand uncle Georg Ratzinger was a priest and member
of the Reichstag,
as the German
Parliament was called then. The future pope's relatives agree that
his ambitions to reside in the upper echelons of the Church were apparent
since childhood. At five years old, Ratzinger was in a group of children
who presented the (A bishop of highest rank) archbishop of (The capital
and largest city of Bavaria in southeastern Germany) Munich with flowers;
later that day he announced he wanted to be a cardinal.
Early life of Pope Benedict XVI.
When Ratzinger turned 14 he joined the Hitler Youth, membership of
which was legally required from March 25, 1939. According to the National
Catholic Reporter correspondent and biographer John Allen, Ratzinger
unenthusiastic member who refused to attend meetings. Ratzinger has
mentioned that a Nazi mathematics professor arranged reduced tuition
payments for him at seminary. This normally required documentation
of attendance at Hitler Youth activities; however, according to Ratzinger,
his professor arranged so that he did not need to attend to receive
Military service (1943 - 1945).
In 1943, when he was 16, Ratzinger was drafted with many of his classmates
into the (A slick spokesperson who can turn any criticism to the
advantage of their employer) FlaK anti-aircraft (Large but transportable
armament artillery corps). They were posted first to Ludwigsfeld,
north of Munich, as part of a detachment responsible for guarding
a BMW aircraft engine plant. Next they were sent to Unterföhring,
northwest of (The capital and largest city of Bavaria in southeastern
Germany) Munich, and briefly to (City in southwestern Austria; known
as a summer and winter resort) Innsbruck. From Innsbruck their unit
went to Gilching to protect the jet fighter base and to attack Allied
bombers as they massed to begin their runs towards Munich. At Gilching,
Ratzinger served in a telephone communications post.
On September 10, 1944, his class was released from the Corps. Returning
home, Ratzinger had already received a new draft notice for the Reichsarbeitsdienst.
He was posted to the (A native or inhabitant of Hungary) Hungarian
border area of (A mountainous republic in central Europe; under the
Habsburgs (1278-1918) Austria maintained control of the Holy Roman
Empire and was a leader in European politics until the 19th century)
Austria, which had been annexed by Germany in the Anschluss of 1938.
Here he was trained in the "cult of the spade" and when Hungary
was occupied by the Red Army, Ratzinger was put to work setting up
in preparation for the expected Red Army offensive. While there, he
saw Jews being herded to death camps. On November 20, 1944, his unit
Ratzinger again returned home. After three weeks passed, he was drafted
into the German army at Munich and assigned to the infantry barracks
in the center of Traunstein, the city near which his family lived.
After basic infantry training, Ratzinger served at various posts around
the city with his unit. They were never sent to the front.
In late April or early May, days or weeks before the German surrender,
Ratzinger deserted. (Withdrawing support or help despite allegiance
Desertion was widespread during the last weeks of the war, even though
punishable by death (executions, frequently extrajudicial, continued
to the end); diminished morale and the greatly diminished risk of prosecution
from a preoccupied and disorganized German military contributed to
the growing wave of soldiers looking toward self-preservation. On his
way home he ran into soldiers on guard, but they let him go.
When the Americans arrived in the village, "I was identified
as a soldier, had to put back on the uniform I had already abandoned,
had to raise my hands and join the steadily growing throng of war prisoners
whom they were lining up on our meadow. It especially cut my good mother's
heart to see her boy and the rest of the defeated army standing there,
exposed to an uncertain fate". Ratzinger was briefly interned
prisoner-of-war camp near Ulm and was released on June 19, 1945. He
and another young man began to walk the 120 km (75 miles) home but
got a lift to Traunstein in a milk truck.
The family was reunited when his brother, Georg, returned after being
released from a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy.
Education (1946 - 1951).
After he was repatriated in 1945, he and his brother entered a Catholic
seminary in Freising, and then studied at the Herzogliches Georgianum
of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. According to an interview
with Peter Seewald, he and his fellow students were particularly
influenced by the works of Gertrud von le Fort, Ernst Wiechert, (Russian
novelist who wrote of human suffering with humor and psychological
insight (1821-1881)) Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Elisabeth Langgässer,
Theodor Steinbüchel, (German philosopher whose views on human
existence in a world of objects and on Angst influenced the existential
philosophers (1889-1976)) Martin Heidegger and (German psychiatrist
(1883-1969)) Karl Jaspers. The young Ratzinger saw the last three
in particular as a break with the dominance of Neo-Kantianism, with
the key work being Steinbüchel's Die Wende des Denkens (The
Change in Thinking). By the end of his studies he was drawn more
to the active
Saint Augustine than to ((Roman Catholic Church) Italian theologian
and Doctor of the Church who is remembered for his attempt to reconcile
faith and reason in a comprehensive theology; presented philosophical
proofs of the existence of God (1225-1274)) Thomas Aquinas, and among
the scholastics he was more interested in Saint Bonaventure.
On June 29, 1951, he and his brother were ordained by Michael
Cardinal von Faulhaber of (The capital and largest city of Bavaria
in southeastern Germany) Munich. His dissertation (1953) was on Saint
Augustine, entitled "The People and the House of God in Augustine's
Doctrine of the Church" and his Habilitationsschrift (a dissertation
which serves as qualification for a professorship) was on Saint Bonaventure.
It was completed in 1957 and he became a professor of Freising college
Early church career (1951 - 1981)Ratzinger became a professor
University of Bonn in 1959; his inaugural lecture was on "The
God of Faith and the God of Philosophy". In 1963 he moved to the
University of Münster, where his inaugural lecture was given in
a packed lecture hall, as he was already well known as a theologian.
Second Vatican Council (1962 - 1965), Ratzinger served as a peritus
or theological consultant to Josef Cardinal Frings of (A commercial
center and river port in western Germany on the Rhine River; flourished
the 15th century as a member of the Hanseatic League) Cologne, Germany,
and has continued to defend the council, including Nostra Aetate,
the document on respect of other religions and the declaration of the
right to religious
freedom. He was viewed during the time of the council as a reformer.
(Later, as the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, Ratzinger most clearly spelled out the Catholic Church's position
on other religions in the document Dominus Iesus (2000) which also
talks about the proper way to engage in
In 1966, he took a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of
Tübingen, where he was a colleague of Hans Küng. In his 1968
book Introduction to Christianity, he wrote that the pope has a duty
to hear differing voices within the church before making a decision,
and downplayed the centrality of the papacy. He also wrote that the
church of the time was too centralized, rule-bound and overly controlled
from Rome. These sentences, however, did not appear in later editions
of the book. During this time, he distanced himself from the atmosphere
of Tübingen and the (An advocate of Marxism) Marxist leanings
of the student movement of the (The decade from 1960 to 1969) 1960s,
that in Germany quickly radicalised in the years 1967 and 1968, culminating
in a series of disturbances and riots in April and May 1968. Ratzinger
came increasingly to see these and associated developments (decreasing
respect for authority among his students, the rise of the German gay
rights movement) as related to a departure from traditional Catholic
his views, despite his reformist bent, contrasted with those liberal
ideas gaining currency in the theological academy. In 1969 he returned
to Bavaria, to the University of Regensburg.
In 1972, he founded the theological journal Communio with Hans Urs
von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac,
and others. Communio, now published in seventeen editions ( (A person
of German nationality) German, (An Indo-European language belonging
to the West Germanic branch; the official language of Britain and the
United States and most of the Commonwealth countries) English, (The
Romance language spoken in most of Spain and the countries colonized
by Spain) Spanish and many others), has become one of the most important
(A record book as a physical object) journals of Catholic thought.
He remains one of the journal's most prolific contributors.
In March 1977 Ratzinger was named (A bishop of highest rank) archbishop
of (The capital and largest city of Bavaria in southeastern Germany)
Munich and Freising.
According to his autobiography, Milestones, he took as his episcopal
motto Cooperatores Veritatis, co-workers of the Truth, from 3 John
In the (A church tribunal or governing body) consistory of June 1977
he was named a ((Roman Catholic Church) one of a group of more than
100 prominent bishops in the Sacred College who advise the Pope and
elect new Popes) cardinal by Pope Paul VI. By the time of the 2005
Conclave, he was one of only 14 remaining cardinals appointed by Paul
VI, and one of
only three of those under the age of 80 and thus eligible to participate
in that conclave.
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1981 - 2005)
On November 25, 1981, Pope John Paul II named Ratzinger prefect of
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
formerly known as the Holy Office of the (A former tribunal of the
Roman Catholic Church (1232-1820) created to discover and suppress
heresy) Inquisition. He resigned the Munich (The diocese of an archbishop)
archdiocese in early 1982. Already a cardinal priest, he was raised
to Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993. He became vice-dean of
the ((Roman Catholic Church) the body of cardinals who advise the Pope
and elect new Popes) College of Cardinals in 1998, and dean in 2002.
In office, Ratzinger usually took traditional views on topics such
as (Limiting the number of children born) birth control, (A sexual
attraction to (or sexual relations with) persons of the same sex) homosexuality,
inter-religious dialogue. Among other things, he played a key role
in silencing outspoken liberation theologians and clergy in (The parts
of North and South America south of the United States where Romance
are spoken) Latin America in the 1980s.
Election to the Papacy.
Prediction On January 2, 2005, (The continuum of experience in which
events pass from the future through the present to the past) Time magazine
quoted unnamed Vatican sources as saying that Ratzinger was a frontrunner
to succeed (The first Pope born in Poland (born in 1920)) John Paul
II should the pope die or become too ill to continue as pope. On the
death of (The first Pope born in Poland (born in 1920)) John Paul II,
Times gave the odds of Ratzinger becoming pope as 7 - 1, the lead
position, but close to his rivals on the liberal wing of the church.
Piers Paul Read wrote in The Spectator on March 5, 2005:
There can be little doubt that his courageous promotion of orthodox
Catholic teaching has earned him the respect of his fellow cardinals
throughout the world. He is patently holy, highly intelligent and sees
clearly what is at stake. Indeed, for those who blame the decline of
Catholic practice in the developed world precisely on the propensity
of many European bishops to hide their heads in the sand, a pope who
confronts it may be just what is required. Ratzinger is no longer young - he
is 78 years old: but Angelo Roncalli, who revolutionized Catholicism
by calling the Second Vatican Council was the same age when he became
pope as John
XXIII. As Jeff Israely, the correspondent of Time, was told by a Vatican
insider last month, "The Ratzinger solution is definitely on".
Cardinal Ratzinger had repeatedly stated he would like to retire to
a Bavarian village and dedicate himself to writing books, but more
recently, he told friends he was ready to "accept any charge
God placed on him". After the death of (The first Pope born
in Poland (born in 1920)) John Paul II on April 2, 2005 Ratzinger
ceased functioning as Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. As he is now Pope, it will be up to
him to decide who will follow him in the role of prefect.
In April 2005, before his election as pope, he was identified as one
of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time
Despite all this, many experts were initially still somewhat skeptical
that Ratzinger would be elected Pope. In modern history Papal predictions
had usually been wrong, with the most popular candidates often losing
the election in favor of a more unknown, obscure cardinal. For example
following the death of Pope Paul VI many in the media predicted the
next pope would be a non-Italian, only to have this prediction proven
wrong with the election of Albino Luciani as John Paul I. Likewise,
when John Paul died many predicted his successor would in turn be another
yet this also was proven wrong with the election of the Polish Karol
Election On April 19, 2005 Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as the successor
to Pope John Paul II on the second day of the papal conclave after
four ballots. Coincidentally, April 19 is the feast of St. Leo IX,
a German pope and saint.
Cardinal Ratzinger had hoped to retire peacefully and said that "At
a certain point, I prayed to God please don't do this to me. Evidently,
this time He didn't listen to me".
Choice of name.
The choice of the name Benedict (Latin "the blessed")
is significant. Benedict XVI used his first General Audience in St.
Peter's Square, on April 27, 2005, to explain to the world on why he
chose the name:
"Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of
why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV,
that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent
times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of
reconciliation and harmony between peoples. Additionally, I recall
Saint Benedict of Norcia, co-patron of Europe, whose life evokes the
Christian roots of Europe. I ask him to help us all to hold firm to
the centrality of Christ in our Christian life: May Christ always take
first place in our thoughts and actions!".
Early days of Papacy Pope Benedict has confounded the expectations
of many in the early days of his papacy by his gentle public persona
and his promise to listen. It is notable that he has used an open
saying that he wants to be closer to the people. Also, his (The official
symbols of a family, state, etc.) coat of arms dropped the papal
tiara which was replaced by a simple (A liturgical headdress worn by
on formal occasions) mitre. During his inaugural Mass, the previous
custom of all the cardinals submitting was replaced by having 12
people, representing cardinals, clergy, religious, a married couple
and their child, and newly confirmed people, submit to him.