Benedict XVI Biography

Benedict XVI

(Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)
Born: April 16, 1927
Birthplace: Marktl, Bavaria, Germany

Benedict XVI was named pope in April 2005, succeeding the immensely popular Pope John Paul II. The conclave of cardinals selected him after two days of voting, a relatively short period.

Growing up in Nazi Germany, Benedict XVI took refuge in the Catholic Church. His experience under a totalitarian regime shaped his religious views and has influenced his theology. Although his family was staunchly anti-Nazi, Benedict XVI was a reluctant and brief member of the Hitler Youth, as mandated by the government. He joined the seminary in 1939 and was drafted in 1943. He served in an antiaircraft unit and in the regular military before deserting in 1945. He was captured by U.S. troops and was held as a prisoner of war. After World War II he returned to the seminary and was ordained in 1951. He turned to academia, earning a doctorate from the University of Munich in 1957. He spent about a dozen years writing and teaching dogma and theology.

Benedict XVI's ascent within the Catholic Church was rapid. In 1962, he advised a German cardinal at the Second Vatican Council. He embraced its reforms but later began to question if they had gone too far, leading to moral decay within the church. Indeed, Benedict XVI was deeply troubled by the student protests in the late 1960s in Germany.

Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich in 1977 and a cardinal three months later. In 1981, Benedict XVI followed Pope John Paul II to Rome as a member of the doctrinal congregation, which sanctioned priests and theologians who challenged church doctrine.

Benedict XVI is considered an archconservative in his religious views. In the past few years he acted as Pope John Paul II's right-hand man and chief enforcer of conservative church dogma. In fact, he has been called the “vice pope.” Benedict XVI is expected to continue the policy of a “strong Rome,” that is, dioceses will not gain independence from the teachings and rules of Rome. It is unlikely in his papacy that women or married men will be considered for the priesthood. In addition, he is not expected to change the church's conservative views on homosexuality, premarital sex, birth control, or feminism.

An accomplished pianist, Benedict XVI tries to carve out time each day to play works by Mozart and Beethoven. While he appears to be in good health, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1991 that has affected his vision.