Pope Benedict XVI - Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger

Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on April 16, 1927. He was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on April 19, 2005. As such, he is Bishop of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State and head of the Roman Catholic Church. Benedict was formally installed as pontiff during the Mass of Papal Installation on April 24, 2005.

At 78 years old, he is the oldest pope elected since Pope Clement XII in 1730. He is the first German pope since Adrian VI (1522–1523), who lived in what is now the Netherlands, a conglomerate of German provinces at the time of his papacy. Benedict is the eighth German pope in history; the first was Gregory V. The last Benedict, Benedict XV, served as pontiff from 1914 to 1922, reigning during World War I.

Pope Benedict XVI was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1981, made a Cardinal Bishop of the episcopal see of Velletri-Segni in 1993, and was elected Dean of the College of Cardinals in 2002, becoming titular bishop of Ostia.

Biography of Pope Benedict XVI

Before he was elected to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was already one of the most influential men in the Vatican and a close associate of the late John Paul II. He also presided over the funeral of John Paul II and the Conclave in 2005 which elected him. After John Paul II's death, he was the highest-ranking official in the Catholic Church.

Some see Benedict as a traditionalist, others as merely orthodox, but almost all observers agree that he is a staunch defender of Catholic doctrine. He is a critic of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and abortion.

He has spoken about the unique role of the Catholic Church in salvation and has called all other Christian churches and ecclesial communities deficient. As a cardinal, he wrote Truth and Tolerance, a book in which he denounces the use of tolerance as an excuse to distort the truth.

Benedict also participated as a priest in the Second Vatican Council 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 liberal. As the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict most clearly spelled out the Catholic Church's position on other religions in the document Dominus Iesus which also talks about the proper way to engage in ecumenical dialogue.

Early Life and Works

Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, in Bavaria, the son of a police officer. In 1937 Ratzinger's father retired and settled in the town of Traunstein. When Ratzinger turned 14 in 1941, he joined the Hitler Youth, as was required of all Germans of that age by a 1938 law. According to National Catholic Reporter correspondent and biographer John Allen, Ratzinger was an unenthusiastic member who refused to attend any meetings.

In 1943, at the age of 16, he and the rest of his class were drafted into the Flak or anti-aircraft corps, responsible for guarding a BMW plant outside Munich. This plant manufactured aircraft engines and used slave labor from the Dachau concentration camp. He was then sent for basic infantry training and was posted to Hungarian border area, where he worked setting up anti-tank defenses in preparation for the Red Army assault.

After two years of service in the German military, Ratzinger's desertion came days before the surrender of German forces in Europe. While desertion in wartime formally carried a death penalty, the threat of encountering any penalty from the broken and distracted German military was minimal. After being shipped back to Bavaria, he deserted in May 1945 and returned to Traunstein.

The complete nature of Ratzinger's military service during the period of National Socialist Germany is uncertain. Current information suggests he was not a part of a combat unit (although a reference to the Landsturm has been made, this formation existed only until 1918). From the duties described, the formation Ratzinger was assigned to was a second rate unit, quite possibly Volkssturm or RAD. His brother, Georg Ratzinger, however, was two years older than him, and served as a Heer radio operator, seeing action on the Italian front from 1944 until the end of the war.

Shortly after returning to Traunstein, he was detained for six weeks in an Allied POW camp, as he wore a German military uniform and the Allies had taken over Traunstein. By June he was repatriated, and he and his brother Georg entered a Catholic seminary. On June 29, 1951, they were ordained by Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich. His dissertation (1953) was on Saint Augustine, and his Habilitationsschrift (second dissertation) was on Saint Bonaventure. He gained a doctorate of theology in 1957 and became a professor of Freising college in 1958.

Ratzinger was a professor at the University of Bonn from 1959 until 1963, when he moved to the University of Münster. During his theological career, Ratzinger has taken both liberal and conservative sides. In 1966, he took a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen, where he was a colleague of Hans Küng but was confirmed in his traditionalist views by the liberal atmosphere of Tübingen and the Marxist leanings of the student movement of the 1960s.

At the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), Ratzinger served as a peritus or chief theological expert to Josef Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany. Ratzinger was a liberal theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council but became more conservative after the 1968 student movement prompted him to defend the faith against secularism. In 1969 he returned to Bavaria, to the University of Regensburg.

Archbishop and Cardinal

In 1972, he founded the theological journal Communio with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and others. Communio, now published in seventeen editions (German, English, Spanish and many others), has become one of the most important journals of Catholic thought.

In March 1977 Ratzinger was named archbishop of Munich and Freising, and in the consistory that June was named a cardinal by Pope Paul VI. At 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.

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 Inquisition, which was renamed in 1908 by Pope Pius X. He resigned the Munich archdiocese in early 1982, became cardinal-bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993, vice-dean of the College of Cardinals in 1998, and was elected dean in 2002. In office, Ratzinger usually took traditional views on topics such as birth control and inter-religious dialogue. As Prefect, Ratzinger wrote a 1986 letter to bishops that identified homosexuality as a "tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil" and "an objective disorder."

Election to the Papacy

On January 2, 2005, TIME magazine quoted unnamed Vatican sources as saying that Ratzinger was a frontrunner to succeed John Paul II should the pope die or become too ill to continue as Pontiff. On the death of John Paul II, 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 was the same age when he became pope as John XXIII. He turned the Church upside-down by calling the Second Vatican Council and was perhaps the best-loved pontiff of modern times. As Jeff Israely, the correspondent of Time, was told by a Vatican insider last month, "The Ratzinger solution is definitely on." (Angelo Roncalli was 76, not 78.)

However, it is important to note that Ratzinger's election to the papal office was by no means certain. In conclaves men who are considered papabile often are not elected to office. At times men considered certain to win the election did not win. This is expressed in the saying, "He who enters the conclave as Pope leaves as a Cardinal."

Benedict has 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 John Paul II on April 2, 2005, Ratzinger ceased functioning as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As pope, it will be up to him to decide who will follow him in the post of prefect.

Benedict speaks ten languages, including German, Italian, English, and ecclesiastical Latin. He is also fluent in French and is an associate member of the French Académie des sciences morales et politiques since 1992. He is an accomplished pianist with a preference for Mozart and Beethoven.

He is the eighth German pope, but only the third (after Clement II and Victor II) to come from the territory of modern-day Germany. The last Germanic (Dutch-German) pope, Adrian VI, was elected in 1522 and died in 1523. He is also the oldest cardinal to become pope since Clement XII in 1730, who, like Ratzinger, was elected at age 78.

In April 2005, he was identified as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine. On April 19, 2005 he was elected as the successor to Pope John Paul II on the second day of the papal conclave.

On his first appearance at the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after becoming pope, he was announced with the words:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; habemus Papam: Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Josephum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger qui sibi nomen imposuit Benedicti XVI

Which translates to: "I announce to you great joy: We have a Pope! The most Eminent and Reverend Lord, the Lord Joseph, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Ratzinger, who takes to himself the name of Benedict the sixteenth."

At the balcony, his first words to the crowd, before he gave the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing, were:

Dear brothers and sisters, after the Great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord's vineyard. I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments. And above all, I entrust myself to your prayers. With the joy of the risen Lord and confidence in His constant help, we will go forward. The Lord will help us and Mary, His most holy mother, will be alongside us. Thank you.

In a pre-conclave Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, he declared, "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires." For some Catholics who had hoped for a more "moderate" choice, the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger caused immediate consternation because of the views that Benedict took as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the necessity of Jesus and the Catholic Church for salvation, on other religions, and on social issues such as homosexuality and abortion. To others, Cardinal Ratzinger represented a type of "Orthodox Catholicism" which they hope to see a continuation of during his reign.


Pope Benedict XVI has taken positions similar to Pope John Paul II, and has been a staunch defender of Catholic Doctrine. He has made it clear that he intends to maintain traditions, and not give in to modern pressures to change policy on such issues as birth control, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Benedict XVI does not believe in relativism, an idea where morals are relative and not universal. Instead he believes morals are universal and unchanging, and therefore should not change as times change.


Before becoming pope, Ratzinger was known for his stance involving American politics. During the 2004 presidential campaign, he expressed the view that people would be "cooperating in evil" if they backed a political candidate because he supports abortion rights or euthanasia. {1}

Regarding the scandal of sexual abuse by priests in the United States, he was sometimes seen by critics as minimizing the abuse. In 2002 he told Catholic News Service that "less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type." {2} Opponents saw this as ignoring the crimes committed by those who did abuse; others saw it as merely pointing out that this should not taint other priests who live respectable lives.

Other controversial statements include a 2000 document in which he argued that, "Only in the Catholic church is there eternal salvation." {3}

Gay rights advocates have widely criticized his letter to the Bishops of the church in 1986, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons in which he stated that homosexuality is a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” In an earlier letter dated September 30, 1985, Ratzinger reprimanded Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen for his liberal views on women, gays, and doctrinal issues, stating, "The Archdiocese should withdraw all support from any group, which does not unequivocally accept the teaching of the Magisterium concerning the intrinsic evil of homosexual activity." Archbishop Hunthausen was temporarily relieved of his authority. {4}

  1. "Pope Benedict XVI." Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Benedict_XVI> (April 2005).
  1. Wired.com
  2. NCR Online
  3. The Australian
  4. Seattle Post-Intelligencer