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Pope Benedict XVI

(1927 - )

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was elected as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on April 19, 2005 and formally installed as Pope Benedict XVI during the Mass of Papal Installation on April 24 of that year. In February 2013, Pope Benedict announced that he would resign from the papacy, citing his advanced age and declining health as reasons for the first such resignation in six centuries. In March 2013, Pope Benedict was succeeded by Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis).

- Early Life
- Communio and Later Works
- Ratzinger, the Jews and Israel
- Election as Pope
- Controversy
- Acts As Pope
- Visit to German Synagogue

Early Life

Joseph Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, in Bavaria, Germany, the son of a police officer who was anti-Nazi. In 1937, Ratzinger's father retired and setled in the town of Traunstein. When Ratzinger turned 14 in 1941, as required by law he joined the Hitler Youth. According to his biographer John Allen he was not an enthusiastic member. He requested to be taken off the rolls and reportedly refused to attend a single meeting.

In 1943, at the age of 16, Ratzinger was, along with the rest of his class, drafted into the Flak or anti-aircraft corps, responsible for the guarding of a BMW plant outside Munich. He was then sent for basic infantry training and was posted to Hungary, where he worked setting up anti-tank defences until deserting in April 1944.

In 1945, Ratzinger was briefly held in an Allied POW camp, where he attended de-Nazification classes. By June, he was released, and he and his brother (Georg) entered a Catholic seminary. On June 29, 1951, they were ordained by Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich. Ratzinger's dissertation (1953) was on Saint Augustine, his Habilitationsschrift (second dissertation) on Saint Bonaventure. Ratzinger's supporters say his experiences under the Nazi regime convinced him that the Church had to stand up for truth and freedom.

Ratzinger was a professor at the University of Bonn from 1959 until 1963, when he moved to the University of Münster. In 1966, he took a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen, where he was a colleague of Hans Küng but was confirmed in his traditionalist views by the liberal atmosphere of Tübingen and the Marxist leanings of the student movement of the 1960s. In 1969, he returned to Bavaria, to the University of Regensburg, eventually rising to become its dean and vice-president.

At the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), Ratzinger served as a peritus or chief theological expert alongside Justinae Janisch, to Josef Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany.

Communio and Later Works

In 1972, Ratzinger founded the theological journal Communio with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and others. Communio, now published in seventeen editions (German, English, Spanish and many others), has become one of the most important journals of Catholic thought.

In March 1977, Ratzinger was named archbishop of Munich and Freising, and in the consistory that June was named a Cardinal by Pope Paul VI. At the time of the 2005 Conclave, he was one of only 14 remaining cardinals appointed by Paul VI, and one of only three of those under the age of 80, and so eligible to participate in that Conclave.

On November 25, 1981, Pope John Paul II named Ratzinger prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which was renamed in 1908 by Pope Pius X. He resigned the Munich archdiocese in early 1982, became cardinal-bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993, vice-dean of the College of Cardinals in 1998, and was elected Dean in 2002, , becoming titular bishop of Ostia.

In office, Ratzinger usually took traditional views on topics such as birth control and inter-religious dialogue. He was closer to John Paul II than any other cardinal, and Ratzinger and John Paul were called “intellectual bedfellows.” Many see him as being a “scientist” who prefers intellectual discussions. He was already one of the most influential men in the Vatican before he became Pope and presided over the funeral of John Paul II and the Conclave in 2005 that elected him. During the most recent sede vacante, he was the highest-ranking official in the Catholic Church.

Piers Paul Read wrote or Ratzinger in The Spectactor on March 5, 2005:

There can be little doubt that his courageous promotion of orthodox Catholic teaching has earned him the respect of his fellow cardinals throughout the world. He is patently holy, highly intelligent and sees clearly what is at stake. Indeed, for those who blame the decline of Catholic practice in the developed world precisely on the propensity of many European bishops to hide their heads in the sand, a pope who confronts it may be just what is required. Ratzinger is no longer young — he is 78 years old: but Angelo Roncalli was the same age when he became Pope as John XXIII. He turned the Church upside-down by calling the Second Vatican Council and was perhaps the best-loved pontiff of modern times.

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires,” Ratzinger declared at a pre-conclave Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Election as Pope

This is the 16th Pope to choose the name Benedict; the last such named Pope (Benedict XV) served as Pope from 1914 to 1922 and was the Pope during the years of World War I. He is the eighth German pope. The last German pope, Adrian VI, was elected in 1522 and died in 1523. He is also the oldest cardinal to become pope since Clement XII in 1730, who like Ratzinger was elected at age 78.

Benedict speaks ten languages (among them German, Italian, English, and ecclesiastical Latin). He is an accomplished pianist with a preference for Beethoven.

In April, 2005, he was identified as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine. On April 19, 2005, he was elected as the successor to Pope John Paul II on the second day of the papal conclave.

On his first appearance at the balcony of Saint Peter's Basillica after becoming Pope, he had notably forgotten to take his black sweater off before putting on his Papal robes, leaving it clearly showing on his arms. At the balcony, his first words to the crowd of thousands were:

Dear brothers and sisters, after the Great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord's vineyard. I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments. And above all, I entrust myself to your prayers. With the joy of the risen Lord and confidence in His constant help, we will go forward. The Lord will help us and Mary, His most holy mother, will be alongside us. Thank you.


Ratzinger has a long record of controversial remarks on Islam, Buddhism, politics, and social issues such as homosexuality, and for some Catholics who had hoped for a more moderate choice, the election of Cardinal Ratzinger caused immediate consternation.[1]

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger waged a campaign against liberation theology, which had gained ground among priests in Latin America and elsewhere as a means of involving the Church in social activism and human rights issues.

He has described homosexuality as a “tendency” towards an “intrinsic moral evil.”

Ratzinger also has spoken out on other issues related to politics. For example, during the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, he called for pro-choice politicians to be denied Communion. He has also argued that Turkey should not be admitted into the European Union.

Acts As Pope

On April 20, 2005, Benedict listed top priorities of his pontificate in a message read in Latin to cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel for the first Mass celebrated by the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He said his “primary task” would be to work without fail to reunify all Christians and that sentiment alone was not enough. “Concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences are needed,” he said. The Pope also declared his willingness to continue “an open and sincere dialogue” with other religions and would do everything in his power to improve the ecumenical cause.

In a Vatican sermon marking his installation as new pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI extolled Jews for sharing a “spiritual heritage” with Christianity. Benedict offered greetings to “my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God´s irrevocable promises.” Rome´s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, received a personal invitation to the Sunday Mass in which the Pope said “I confide in the help of the Almighty to continue the dialogue and strengthen the collaboration with the sons and daughters of the Jewish people.” The rabbi did not attend the event due to Passover.

Pope Benedict held his first audience for 25 Jewish leaders from Israel, the United States, Europe and Latin America on June 9, 2005. “The history of relations between our two communities has been complex and often painful,” the pope said, “but I am convinced that the spiritual patrimony treasured by Christians and Jews is itself the source of the wisdom and inspiration capable of guiding us toward a future of hope in accordance with the divine plan.”

He praised a landmark document of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, recalling that it urged greater understanding and esteem between Christians and Jews and that it “deplored all manifestations of hatred, persecution and anti-Semitism.”

He added: “At the very beginning of my pontificate, I wish to assure you that the Church remains firmly committed, in her catechesis and in every aspect of her life, to implementing this decisive teaching."

The Pope also told his visitors the painful past could not be forgotten. “Remembrance of the past remains for both communities a moral imperative and a source of purification in our efforts to pray and work for reconciliation, justice, respect for human dignity and for that peace which is ultimately a gift from the Lord himself.” Benedict called for “continued reflection on the profound historical, moral and theological questions presented by the experience of the Shoah.”

Another early sign of sensitivity toward Jews was the Pope's decision to at least temporarily block the beatification of Leon Dehon (1843-1925), a French priest who founded the Priests of the Sacred Heart order. The Pope acted after a historian found several controversial texts in which Dehon made disparaging remarks about Jews, such as suggesting Jews were “thirsty for gold” and that “lust for money is a racial instinct in them.” He also called the Talmud “a manual for the bandit, the corrupter, the social destroyer,” and recommended that Jews wear special markings, live in ghettos and be prevented from owning land or participating in certain professions. Pope Benedict appointed a commission to investigate the priest's writings.

In February 2008, Pope Benedict XVI made the decision to reformulate the Catholic Church’s traditional Good Friday prayers. The Latin prayers for Good Friday ask Catholics to “pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also make acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ,” and ask God not to “refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness." The new text will drop all references to the “darkness” and “blindness” of the Jews.

The Pope had issed a “Motu Propio” edict permitting the use of this version of the prayer from the 1962 Latin Tridentine missal in July 2007. But after protests from leaders in the Jewish community, the Pope drafted a new version to be used in time for the Holy Week celebrations in March 2008.

Visit to German Synagogue

On August 19, 2005, Pope Benedict visited the synagogue on Roonstrasse in Cologne, Germany in what was viewed as a reflection of his interest to maintain the warm relations with world Jewry fostered by his predecessor who had been the first Pope to visit a synagogue. “It has been my deep desire, during my first visit to Germany since my meet the Jewish community of Cologne and the representatives of Judaism in Germany,” the Pope said. The Pope reflected on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, saying, “In the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry...This year marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, in which millions of Jews — men, women and children — were put to death in the gas chambers and ovens.”

Israel's two chief rabbis met with Pope Benedict XVI on September 15, 2005, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a landmark Vatican document on relations with Jews, and sought his support in fighting anti-Semitism and terrorism. Israel's Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar called on the pope at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome.

On October 27, 2005, Pope Benedict celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s “Nostra Aetate” document, which absolved Jews of collective guilt in the death of Jesus. “This anniversary gives us abundant reason to express gratitude to almighty God,” Benedict told Jewish and Catholic leaders marking the event in Rome. “In laying the foundations for a renewed relationship between the Jewish people and the church, Nostra Aetate stressed the need to overcome past prejudices, misunderstandings, indifference and the language of contempt and hostility,” he said. “I have expressed my own firm determination to walk in the footsteps traced by my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II. The Jewish-Christian dialogue must continue to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed.”

“We cannot but denounce and fight hatred and incomprehension, injustice and violence that continue to sow concern into the souls of men and women of good faith,” Benedict said January 16, 2006, during his first meeting with Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni. “How can one not be hurt and worried by the renewed displays of anti-Semitism that sometimes appear?” He added, “The people of Israel have been freed on numerous occasions from the hands of their enemies and the hand of the Almighty has supported and guided them during centuries of anti-Semitism (and) in the dramatic time of the Shoah,” he said.

In May 2008, Pope Benedict congratulated Israel on its birthday and described Israel's 60th Independence Day as a sign of God's beneficence toward the Jews. “The Holy See is united with you,” he reportedly told Motti Levy, the new Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, “and thanks God for the full realization of the Jewish people's aspirations to live in its homeland, the land of its forefathers.”

Ratzinger, the Jews and Israel

Ratzinger's membership in the Hitler Youth has raised eyebrows in the Jewish community, but he explained that membership was compulsory in his 1997 book Salt of the Earth:

“At first we weren't,” he says, speaking of himself and his older brother. “But when the compulsory Hitler Youth was introduced in 1941, my brother was obliged to join. I was still too young, but later as a seminarian I was registered in the Hitler Youth. As soon as I was out of the seminary, I never went back. And that was difficult because the tuition reduction, which I really needed, was tied to proof of attendance at the Hitler Youth.”

Ratzinger wrote that he was helped by a mathematics professor. “He himself was a Nazi, but an honest man, and said to me, ‘Just go once to get the document so we have it...’ When he saw that I simply didn't want to, he said, ‘I understand, I'll take care of it’ and so I was able to stay free of it.”

Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said the choice of Ratzinger as Pope would bring continuity to Catholic-Jewish relations. “He has a deep commitment to this issue. And his own national background makes him sensitive to the dangers of anti-Semitism and the importance of Jewish-Catholic reconciliation,” Rosen said

Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, called Ratzinger the architect of the “ideological policy to recognize, to have full relations with Israel.”

Cardinal Ratzinger played a key role on a number of issues related to Judaism and the Holocaust during the pontificate of John Paul II involved. For example, he personally prepared Memory and Reconciliation, the 1999 document outlining the church's historical “errors” in its treatment of Jews.

Ratzinger also authorized the 2002 publication, “The Jewish People and the Holy Scriptures,” prepared by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. That 210-page report was seemingly buried upon publication, but contained several important expressions of Church doctrine. For example, it said “the Jewish messianic wait is not in vain” and that Jews and Christians share their wait for the Messiah, although Jews are waiting for the first coming and Christians for the second. The report also expressed regret that certain passages in the Christian Bible condemning individual Jews were used to justify anti-Semitism. It also stressed the importance of the Torah for Christians.

“He has shown this sensitivity countless times, in meetings with Jewish leadership and in important statements condemning anti-Semitism and expressing profound sorrow for the Holocaust,” said Abraham H. Foxman, Anti-Defamation League National Director. “We remember with great appreciation his Christmas reflections on December 29, 2000, when he memorably expressed remorse for the anti-Jewish attitudes that persisted through history, leading to ‘deplorable acts of violence’ and the Holocaust.

In that Christmas “meditation,” which appeared on the front page of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Ratzinger said:

Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah (Holocaust) was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

According to the Religious News Service, “Ratzinger's warm tone and repeated emphasis on Christianity's roots in Judaism appeared aimed at easing severe strains caused by the controversial document on salvation that his congregation issued in September 2000. The ‘Declaration Dominus Iesus’ asserted the primacy of Catholicism and said followers of other religions are in a ‘gravely deficient situation’ regarding salvation.”

“The entire story of salvation,” Ratzinger said in his meditation, “had Israel as its initial protagonist. For this reason, the voices of Moses and the prophets have resonated in the liturgy of the church from the beginning until today; Israel's Book of Psalms is also the church's great book of prayer.”

Ratzinger has also written about dialogue with Jews:

The average observer would probably regard the following statement as obvious: the Hebrew Bible, the “Old Testament,” unites Jews and Christians, whereas faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer divides them. It is not difficult to see, however, that this kind of division between what unites and what divides is superficial. For the primal fact is that through Christ Israel's Bible came to the non-Jews and became their Bible...For through the encounter with Jesus of Nazareth the God of Israel became the God of the Gentiles. Through him, in fact, the promise that the nations would pray to the God of Israel as the one God, that the “mountain of the Lord” would be exalted above all other mountains, has been fulfilled. Even if Israel cannot join Christians in seeing Jesus as the Son of God, it is not altogether impossible for Israel to recognize him as the servant of God who brings the light of his God to the nations. The converse is also true: even if Christians wish that Israel might one day recognize Christ as the Son of God and that the fissure that still divides them might thereby be closed, they ought to acknowledge the decree of God, who has obviously entrusted Israel with a distinctive mission in the “time of the Gentiles.”

....I think we could say that two things are essential to Israel's faith. The first is the Torah, commitment to God's will, and thus the establishment of his dominion, his kingdom, in this world. The second is the prospect of hope, the expectation of the Messiah — the expectation, indeed, the certainty, that God himself will enter into this history and create justice, which we can only approximate very imperfectly.... For Christians, Christ is the present Sinai, the living Torah that lays its obligations on us, that bindingly commands us, but that in so doing draws us into the broad space of love and its inexhaustible possibilities. In this way, Christ guarantees hope in the God who does not let history sink into a meaningless past, but rather sustains it and brings it to its goal. It likewise follows from this that the figure of Christ simultaneously unites and divides Israel and the Church: it is not in our power to overcome this division, but it keeps us together on the way to what is coming and for this reason must not become an enmity.

He also made remarks, however, that raised some concerns among Jews. In 2001, for example, Ratzinger said the Church is waiting for the moment when Jews will “say yes to Christ.” When asked if Jews should acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, Ratzinger said, “We believe that. The fact remains, however, that our Christian conviction is that Christ is also the Messiah of Israel.”

Ratzinger said this “does not mean that we have to force Christ upon them but that we should try to share in the patience of God. We also have to try to live our life together in Christ in such a way that it no longer stands in opposition to them or would be unacceptable to them but so that it facilitates their own approach to it....They are not excluded from salvation, but they serve salvation in a particular way, and thereby they stand within the patience of God, in which we, too, place our trust.”

In January 2009, Italy’s rabbis announced they were pulling out of the Italian Catholic Church’s annual celebration of Judaism because of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to restore a prayer in Easter Week services of the old Latin Mass that calls for the conversion of Jews. The chief rabbi of Venice, Elia Enrico Richetti, said, “If we add to this the recent positions taken by the pope about dialogue, said to be useless because the superiority of the Christian faith is proven anyway, then it’s evident that we're heading toward the cancellation of the last 50 years of church history.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, “In 2007, Benedict relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine rite, which was celebrated before the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s paved the way for the New Mass used widely today in local languages. In doing so, Benedict restored to prominence a prayer for the conversion of Jews that is recited during Good Friday services of Easter Week. Jewish groups had long criticized the prayer, and they expressed dismay that the pope's decree would allow it to be celebrated more broadly. In a bid to stem the criticism, the Vatican issued a new prayer last year. But Jewish groups said the changes were equally disappointing since the language still suggested that they needed to convert to Christianity to find salvation.”

Pope Benedict XVI insisted on January 28, 2009, that he felt “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews after his decision to revoke the excommunication of a bishop who says no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust provoked an outcry among Jews and prompted the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to sever ties with the Vatican. The Vatican said removing the excommunication did not imply an endorsement of Bishop Richard Williamson’s denial that 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II. Bowing to criticism, the Vatican on February 4 demanded that Williamson “absolutely and unequivocally distance himself from his remarks,” but Williamson’s subsequent apology was deemed insufficient for readmission into the Catholic Church as a clergyman.

In a meeting with Jewish leaders aimed at quelling the controversy over Williamson, the Pope said the Catholic Church was “profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism.” He added, “The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity....It is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable.”

In his annual New Year's message in 2010, the Pope said: “Once again I call for a universal recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist and to enjoy peace and security within internationally recognized borders," he said. "Likewise, the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign and independent homeland, to live in dignity and to enjoy freedom of movement, ought to be recognized.” He also called for “protection of the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem, and of its cultural and religious heritage, which is of universal value.” Later, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the latest meeting of representatives of Israel and the Vatican had been “useful” in moving toward an agreement on unresolved financial issues clouding relations between the two states.

On January 17, 2010, the Pope paid his first visit to the main synagogue of Rome, Longotevere Cenci. The president of Rome's Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, criticized Pope Pius XII for his silence during the Holocaust in remarks before the Pope spoke. Afterward, Pope Benedict said the Vatican had worked quietly to save Jews.

In March 2011, when excerpts of his latest book, the second volume of Jesus of Nazareth, were released, the Pope received praise from Jewish organizations for his repudiation of the claim that the Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus. Though the Vatican already rejected the claim in general terms in 1965 with the Nostra Aetate document, Benedict employs a thorough scholarly analysis of Catholic teaching to clearly draw the conclusion based on scripture.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC News (April 19, 2005); New York Times (February 11, 2013); Jerusalem Post (April 19 & 20, & August 21, 2005, February 3, 2008, January 14 & 27, February 12, 27, 2009; January 17, 2010); The Jewish Week (January 25, 2002); Catholic Reflections & Reports; Religion News Service (December 29, 2000); Haaretz, (April 22, 2005, June 9, 2005); Washington Post, (June 16, 2005); AP, (); JTA, (October 28, 2005; January 17, 2006; May 14, 2008; January 12, 2010, March 3, 2011); Photo: Domus Ecclesiae