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Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI, 1927–, pope (2005–13) and Roman Catholic theologian, a German (b. Marktl am Inn, Bavaria) named Josef (or Joseph) Alois Ratzinger; successor of John Paul II. He entered the seminary in 1939, but his training was interrupted by World War II. Drafted (1943) into the antiaircraft corps and then into the infantry, he later deserted (1945) and was briefly a prisoner of war. Reentering the seminary, he was ordained in 1951 and received a doctorate in theology from the Univ. of Munich in 1953.

A professor of theology at several German universities from 1959, he became known as a subtle thinker and engaging teacher. He attended the Second Vatican Council (see Vatican Council, Second) as the theological adviser to the archbishop of Cologne and championed a moderately liberal approach to church renewal. He became more conservative and traditionalist after experiencing the European student uprisings of 1968 and reacting against the strong influence of Marxism at Univ. of Tübingen in the late 1960s.

Named archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 and cardinal shortly thereafter, he subsequently served (1981–2005) as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II. In that post he was responsible for enforcing theological orthodoxy and was in general assertively uncompromising on Catholic teachings; he came to be regarded as the most influential person in the Catholic hierarchy after the pope. Dean of the College of Cardinals from 2002, he was widely regarded as a favorite to succeed John Paul II when the latter died in 2005.

Benedict's papacy largely continued the policies of John Paul II, although he adopted a less unconditional approach to seeking improved relations with Muslims. In an academic address on faith and reason during a visit (2006) to his native Germany the pope quoted remarks by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II that denounced Muhammad and Islam for violence and forced conversion; the oblique criticism by the pope of radical Islamic violence sparked an international outcry from Muslims and led to a personal apology from the pope, who said the address had been intended as an invitation to dialogue. The pope also was criticized for ending in 2008 the excommunication of the bishops of the extremely conservative Society of St. Pius X without regard initially for one bishop's denial of the Holocaust, and for suggesting that the use of condoms increases the problem of AIDS. Subsequently, doctrinal differences prevented the Society from rejoining the church. His papacy was marred as well by recurring revelations of past sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy, and despite changes under Benedict, the church's handling of the scandals was often criticized.

In Feb., 2013, Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign in 600 years, breaking a tradition of life tenure that stretched back to Gregory XII. His stepping down, for reasons of age, was seen by some as establishing a new tradition for the modern era, a time requiring a more active pope. He officially became pope emeritus; Francis was elected to succeed him. Benedict's many published works on religious subjects include Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (2003, tr. 2004) and a three-part work on the life of Jesus (2007–12, tr. 2007–12).

See his Milestones: Memoirs: 1927–1977 (tr. 1998); interviews in The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church (with V. Messori, tr. 1985), Salt of the Earth: Christianity and the Catholic Church at the End of the Millennium (with P. Seewald, tr. 1997), and God and the World (with P. Seewald, tr. 2002); A. Nichols, The Theology of Joseph Ratzinger (1994), and J. L. Allen, Jr., Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith (2000).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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