Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

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 Church and 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 in Marktl 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 Peninsula; was 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 was an 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 a scholarship.

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 anti-tank defences in preparation for the expected Red Army offensive. While there, he saw Jews being herded to death camps. On November 20, 1944, his unit was released from service.

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 or responsibility) 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 in a 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 in 1958.

Early church career (1951 - 1981)Ratzinger became a professor at the 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. At the 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 during 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 ecumenical dialogue.).

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 teachings. Increasingly, 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, Walter Kasper 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 8.

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, and 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 languages 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, the Financial 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 magazine.

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 Italian, yet this also was proven wrong with the election of the Polish Karol Wojtyla.

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 popemobile, 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 bishops 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.