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Benedict XVI

(b. 2005)


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(19 April 2005–  )

The son of Josef, an inspector of police, and his wife Maria, a cook, Josef Ratzinger was born on 16 Apr. 1927 in the small Bavarian village of Marktl-am-Inn north-east of Munich and close to the Marian shrine of Alttöting. Josef's elder brother Georg also became a priest, and a distinguished choirmaster at the cathedral in Regensburg; his sister Maria looked after Josef until her death, in Rome, in 1991. In 1929 Josef the elder's duties took the family to Tittmoning, on the border with Austria, then in 1932 to Aschau-am-Inn. When five years later Josef retired the family moved to the country village of Hufschlag on the outskirts of Traunstein. It was this house the younger Josef regarded as home. He attended the local gymnasium then, in 1939, joined Georg at the minor seminary. The brothers were required, like all students, to join the Hitler Youth, but when the seminary closed and Josef moved back to Traunstein, he never attended meetings: his deeply devout family was opposed to National Socialism. In 1943 Josef was conscripted into an anti-aircraft battery, and shortly afterwards into the army, but as the army disintegrated he again returned home only to be arrested by American troops and briefly interned as a prisoner of war. At the end of the war he studied theology in Munich, defending his doctorate on St Augustine in 1953. Four years later he completed his Habilitationsschrift on salvation history in St Bonaventure. Alongside Georg he had been ordained by Cardinal Michael Faulhaber in Freising cathedral on 29 June 1951, and he lectured on theology at Freising University until 1959, when he became a full professor at the University of Bonn. This position brought him into contact with Cardinal Josef Frings, the Archbishop of Cologne, and Frings took him to Rome as his peritus, or expert adviser, at the Second Vatican Council (1962–5). Frings was one of the Council's leading reformers, and the relatively young Fr Ratzinger an important theologian working on, among other issues, the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. In the middle of the Council he had been invited to a professorship at the University of Münster, and at the end of it to the prestigious University of Tübingen, thanks in part to his colleague at the Council, Hans Küng, already a professor there. Though he had previously published a good deal, it was his Introduction to Christianity, which appeared in 1968, which brought him to public attention. That same year, however, the student riots, in Tübingen as well as across Europe, occasioned a change of heart. In 1969 he resigned from Tübingen and moved to the peaceful, and conservative, University of Regensburg. His change of heart is exemplified in his founding, with the theologians Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac, of Communio, a journal created in opposition to the more radical Concilium which he had also helped to found, along with Küng and others, shortly after the Council.

In 1977 he was named Archbishop of Munich by Pope Paul VI, and created cardinal that same year. He was ordained bishop on 28 May 1977. In 1981Pope John Paul II called him to Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which post he was responsible for disciplining a number of important theologians, for issuing two documents heavily criticizing liberation theology, and in 2000 for Dominus Jesus, which insisted on the superiority of Christianity, and specifically Roman Catholicism, over other world faiths. While Prefect of the Congregation he continued to produce his own books and articles, the latter often in Communio, several of which display his abiding interest in the liturgy. A book-length interview with him, The Ratzinger Report, appeared in 1985. In 1993 he was raised to the rank of cardinal bishop, becoming dean of the college of cardinals in 2002. In that capacity he presided, and preached the homily, at the funeral mass for John Paul II. In the conclave which followed he was one of only two electors who did not owe their rank to the late pope. He was elected on the fifth ballot and, on 24 Apr., he was invested with the pallium as the symbol of his office. This low-key installation seemed to indicate a low-key approach to the papal office as a whole, as did removing the tiara from the papal coat of arms. His first journey outside Italy was to Cologne in Aug. 2005 to fulfil his predecessor's commitment to attend World Youth Day. Since that time he has also visited in turn Poland (May 2006), Spain (July 2006), Germany for the second time (Sept. 2006), Turkey (Nov.–Dec. 2006), Brazil (May 2007), Austria (Sept. 2007), and the USA (Apr. 2008), during which visit he addressed the United Nations in New York. He was in Australia for World Youth Day in July 2008, where he gave a public apology for the sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy. In Sept. 2008 he went to France. In 2009 he visited Cameroon and Angola (Mar.), the Holy Land (May), and the Czech Republic (Sept.). During his second visit to Germany he gave an address at the University of Regensburg on faith and reason—a favourite topic—but which became notorious for an apparently critical reference to Islam and violence, the outcry over which for a time put his visit to Turkey in doubt. Similarly his rehabilitation of the ‘Tridentine’ liturgy in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (7 July 2007) upset Jews because of the hostile reference to the Jewish people in one of the Good Friday prayers. This was compounded when in Jan. 2009 he removed the excommunication imposed on the four bishops who had been consecrated by the schismatic prelate Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: one of them, it transpired, had expressed doubts about the number of Jews who had died in the Holocaust, and the manner of their execution. These events cast a shadow over the visit to the Holy Land in May 2009. On the other hand, Pope Benedict's three encyclicals, Deus Caritas Est (25 Dec. 2005), Spe Salvi (30 Nov. 2007), and Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), were relatively well received, especially the first.

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Subjects: Christianity.


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