Pope Benedict Xvi Biography
Roman Catholic Pope
During Pope John Paul’s tenure his closest confidant and adviser was Joseph Ratzinger. When Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, Ratzinger was considered a front-runner to replace him, and on April 19 he was elected almost unanimously by the 115 cardinals who were part of the voting process.
Early life in Nazi Germany
Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, a small village in the state of Bavaria, Germany. Ratzinger’s mother, Maria, was a cook; his father, Joseph, who was in his fifties when his youngest child was born, served as a policeman for the state of Bavaria.
Ratzinger’s childhood was a difficult one since he grew up during the era of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Hitler was the chancellor (leader) of Germany who came to power in 1933, when Ratzinger was just seven years old. He ruled brutally, and through the National Socialist Workers Party, known as the Nazi Party, he gained control of much of Europe during World War II (1939–45).
The Nazi regime was also hostile toward the Catholic Church. The Ratzingers were devout Catholics, and Joseph Sr. became an outspoken opponent of both Hitler and his government. As a result, he was demoted from state police officer to rural law enforcer. In 1937 Joseph Sr. retired to the town of Traunstein, located in southeastern Bavaria. It was there that Joseph Ratzinger and his older siblings Georg and Maria spent their formative years.
From the time he was very young, Ratzinger expressed his desire to become a Catholic priest. The young Ratzinger began studying for the priesthood when he was only twelve years old, but his studies were cut short when he was forced to join the Hitler Youth in 1941, at age fourteen. Membership in the organization was mandatory for young German men.
Road to the priesthood
In 1943, when Ratzinger was sixteen, he was drafted into the German military. He was never involved in actual fighting; instead, as part of the anti-aircraft artillery corps he was assigned with guarding aircraft engine plants and various army bases. In 1945, along with other members of his unit, Ratzinger was sent for infantry training, which prepared him to fight in actual combat. In mid-1945, however, just weeks before Germany surrendered, Ratzinger deserted (left without permission) the army and returned home to Traunstein. He was captured by American troops and was briefly held in a U.S. prisoner of war camp.
After the war ended Ratzinger resumed his studies. He and his brother Georg entered Saint Michael Seminary in Traunstein in 1945. On June 29, 1951, after completing work at the University of Munich, both men were ordained, which means they officially became members of the priesthood. Ratzinger pursued advanced studies and received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1953, with the intent of becoming a professor of philosophy and theology. For the next twenty years he held posts at several universities, including the University of Bonn, the University of Tubingen, and the University of Regensburg.
From the start of his teaching career, Ratzinger earned a reputation as a learned scholar and a gifted lecturer.
At the end of the council sessions Ratzinger was known as a reformer, who felt that the Church was too bound by rules, and that control of the Church government was held too tightly by the Pope. He expressed these views in one of his most important works, Introduction to Christianity, which was published in 1968. Although Ratzinger was an advocate of structural reform, he also was a firm believer in adhering to traditional Catholic teachings. As a result, during the late 1960s he found himself at odds with radical Christian groups that were springing up in Germany. In particular, there was a call among German students for gay rights, which led to frequent uprisings at the University of Tubingen. Ratzinger denounced such beliefs, and he left Tubingen in 1969. Later that year he became the dean of theology at the University of Regensburg.
Becomes trusted confidant
Through the mid-1970s Ratzinger’s reputation continued to grow. In 1972 he cofounded the religious journal Communio. In March 1977 he took the first step on the ladder to the papacy when he was named Archbishop of Munich. Just three months later Ratzinger was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI (1897–1978).
From Servant of God to Patron Saint
On August 6, 1978, when Pope Paul VI died, Ratzinger participated in his first conclave, which elected John Paul I (1912–1978). John Paul I served as pope for only thirty-three days and then died of a heart attack—one of the shortest papacies in history. In October 1978, the conclave of cardinals elected John Paul II, who presided over the Catholic Church for over twenty-five years. During that time Ratzinger became the pope’s special ally and trusted confidant. The two had known each other since their days on the Second Vatican Council and they both shared the same conservative religious views.
In 1981 Pope John Paul II called Ratzinger to Rome to serve as prefect (head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Throughout his tenure Ratzinger became a spokesman for maintaining conservative religious beliefs.
In the early 1990s Ratzinger suffered a stroke (a blockage of blood to the brain), which affected his eyesight and weakened his heart. Because of his health problems he tried to resign from his post at least twice, but both times Pope John Paul II refused his resignation.
Conclave of 2005
In 1998 Pope John Paul II named Ratzinger vice-dean of the College of Cardinals; he was appointed dean in 2002.
In the days following John Paul II’s death, Ratzinger was in the public eye a great deal. He presided over the pope’s funeral and made himself available to all the cardinals who were gathering in Rome for the papal conclave. Fluent in several languages, he spoke to them in Spanish, German, French, English, and Italian. He also led the meetings leading up to the official papal election.
On April 18, 2005, the 117 cardinals who were eligible to vote met to decide on the next pope. During the first round of ballots, Ratzinger emerged as the front-runner but did not take a majority of votes. The indecision was announced to the world via black smoke rising from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. On April 19, Ratzinger inched closer to becoming pope during the second and third rounds of voting. That evening, after the fourth round of ballots was counted, he had reached 95 out of 117 votes. Only 77 were required to ensure him the papacy. At 6:00 PM white smoke billowed out of the chimney of the chapel and the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica rang out confirming that a new pope was officially in place.
Filling the pope’s shoes
Although it is not required, it is customary for popes to change names upon taking office. Immediately after the votes were confirmed, Jorge Cardinal Arturo Medina Estevez, who was charged with introducing the new pope, asked Ratzinger what name he would assume. According to the press he did not hesitate and replied “Benedict XVI.”
In the months following his inauguration, many seemed divided over what they could expect during the reign of the latest Pope Benedict. Until his last years, Pope John Paul II was an extremely dynamic man, and despite his conservative views, he was beloved by people both inside and outside the Catholic Church. Prior to becoming pope, Ratzinger was known for possessing a warm sense of humor, but he was also a studious man who protected his privacy. Since assuming the role of pope he made it a priority to appear frequently in the press and to interact regularly with the public. In fact, he tended to travel in an open popemobile (a specially designed papal car) so that he could visit more freely.
The greatest concern remained whether or not his ultra-conservative position would divide the over one billion Catholics who lived around the world, many of whom were Christian in their beliefs, but who wanted to see Church teachings reflect the ever-changing, more-accepting society. During several early public statements, the new pope made it clear that he remained steadfast in his convictions and that change would not be forthcoming. In May 2005 he condemned a Spanish law that would allow for gay adoptions, and in a conference held in Rome in June he condemned same-sex marriages and abortion. Benedict XVI had many supporters. The cardinals who elected him considered him to be a capable manager and leader.
On 11 February 2013, the Vatican confirmed that Benedict XVI would resign the papacy on 28 February 2013, as a result of his advanced age.