1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger


Joseph Ratzinger, a German theologian and Cardinal, was Pope Benedict XVI from 2005 until his surprise resignation in 2013.

Early Life and the War

Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16th 1927, into a Catholic policeman’s family in Germany, and he joined a seminary in 1939. However, although his family had been opposed to the Nazis, who had risen to power during Ratzinger’s life, male children were obliged to join the Hitler Youth by the regime, and he had to so in 1941. In 1943 he was forced into the German military, working at an anti-aircraft position, and as the war turned evermore against the Germans he was sent to Hungary to work on defence there. He deserted in April 1945 was later captured by American troops, and held as a prisoner of war.

Career in the Church

Upon returning to the seminary, Ratzinger continued his studies, and became a priest in 1951, received a doctorate in theology in 1953, earned a teaching license in 1957. In 1959 he began teaching: at Freising, the University of Bonn and elsewhere, until in 1969 he was at Regensburg. During this period Ratzinger encountered students who held Marxist, socialist and other views, and their frequent attacks on the church seemed to him to be comparable with the attacks of the Nazi regime. He thus became opposed to these ideologies, and developed a conservative outlook on Catholic theology. He was also writing, and several of his important works attracted the attention of Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, and Ratzinger accompanied him to the Second Vatican Council in the early sixties. Ratzinger was, at this point, still progressive, and his arguments helped convince Pope Paul VI to reform the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which aimed to maintain proper theology and which Ratzinger would go on to head.

In 1977 Ratzinger became first Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and then a Cardinal, having impressed Paul VI. Then, in 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the two friends would develop an intimate working relationship. They shared a history in surviving dictatorships, and they shared a conservative outlook. Ratzinger was swiftly seen as a hard man, who pushed tenaciously against aspects of Catholicism he disliked, such as liberation theology, and earned the nickname “God's Rottweiler”.

Pope Benedict XVI

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005 Ratzinger seemed the obvious candidate to succeed him as Pope, but obvious candidates had a poor track record, and many feared that Ratzinger, who was already seventy eight, was simply too old. However, he was elected on April 19th 2005, thanks partly to the faith the previous Pope had in him. At 78 he was the oldest Pope to be elected since 1730, and he took the name Benedict XVI. He has since said he didn’t want to be Pope, but worked wholeheartedly to be a success.

Benedict proved, as many suspected, to be a conservative Pope when it came to issues such as contraception, women priests, and gay rights, but he was keen to maintain the steps John Paul II had taken to reach out to other faiths, particularly Islam and Judaism; he has, however, managed to cause offense on occasion. He travelled, spoke out on some human rights issues, and faced the crisis of child abuse in the church, although opinion is divided over his reaction.


On February 11th 2013 Benedict, now aged eighty five, announced he was retiring due to his age not being suited to the tasks required of a modern Pontiff. It was a surprise decision, and while there has been nothing to prevent Pope’s retiring, he became the first to do so in nearly six hundred years, after Gregory XII in 1415.
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. European History
  4. Biography
  5. Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.