Who is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI?

Discover the dramatic life of the previous Holy Father
Pope Benedict XVI at a Papal Audience in 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook


Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was born in the German town of Marktl, Bavaria, on April 16, 1927. April 16, 2017 was his 90th birthday. He was born on Easter morning and baptised that day with the newly blessed baptismal water for the year.

His father was a police officer in Marktl, and the family lived above the Police Station, which is now a Museum dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI.

In his youth, the family went on many pilgrimages to Altötting, the main Bavarian Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary, near Marktl.

Our Lady of Altötting, the main Marian Shrine of Bavaria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

His family was notable in its resistance to National Socialism (Nazism). His uncle, also a priest, received a reprimand for actions that undermined Nazism, while his father subscribed to the anti-fascist newspaper.

Joseph entered the junior seminary in Traunstein in 1939, only for it to be made into a military hospital a few months later.

George Weigel’s biography of Pope Benedict XVI, God’s Choice details a dramatic moment when a senior Nazi officer inspected anti-aircraft unit, into which Joseph Ratzinger had been conscripted.

The officer asked each young soldier what he wanted to be as an adult. Each replied with typical military roles, such as a pilot, tank commander, or military officer.

The 16-year-old Joseph Ratzinger had an unexpected answer: “I would like to become a parish priest.”

Many of the others burst out laughing at his counter-cultural hopes but in that moment, Joseph Ratzinger displayed the courage that would accompany him throughout his life.

Joseph Ratzinger’s incredible intellect, especially encyclopaedic knowledge of philosophy was notable from his youth, when he would translate Ancient Greek texts into Latin for recreation.

After being held by American troops as a Prisoner of War, he recommenced studies for the priesthood, being ordained in 1951 on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul with his elder brother Georg.

In 1953, he received his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. He lectured at the Universities of Bonn, Tubingen and Regensburg.

He was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977.

In 1981, he accepted Pope St John Paul II’s invitation to become Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The role made him responsible for guarding the truth of Catholic doctrine around the world. He successfully corrected many theological errors around the world.

At the age of 70, Cardinal Ratzinger asked to retire from the Congregation several times. It was his hope to retire to spend his time writing books and playing the piano. Pope St John Paul II denied each request.

Elected as a surprise in 2005, Pope Benedict focused on teaching and strengthening the Church.

He visited the Diocese of Parramatta in 2008, in the lead up to World Youth Day Sydney.

Pope Benedict XVI praying at Kenthurst Study Centre during WYD 2008. Photo: Supplied.


Notably, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, ‘The Lion of Munster’ who partially wrote ‘Mit Brennender Sorge’, (‘With Burning Concern’), the anti-Nazi encyclical letter of Pope Pius XI to the Catholics of Germany. Pope Benedict XVI also beatified Blessed John Henry Newman, the prominent intellectual defender of Catholicism and convert from Anglicanism.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote the encyclicals Deus Caritas Est, (‘God is Love’), Spe Salvi (‘On Christian Hope’) and Caritas in Veritate (‘On Integral Development in Charity and Truth’). He also published the three volume ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ series, a scholarly and personal study of the life of Christ.

Read Daily
* indicates required