Pope Benedict has died.
Pope Benedict († 95) – civilly baptized Joseph Ratzinger – can look back on an eventful life in the service of the Catholic Church.
Born in 1927, on a Holy Saturday, in Marktl am Inn near the Austrian border, he grew up with his siblings Georg and Maria in deep piety. The family had to move often due to a gendarme as father.
A life of service to the Catholic Church
In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, Ratzinger was drafted as a so-called anti-aircraft helper. Shortly before the end of the war, however, he decided to “go home”, as his autobiography puts it. With that he committed desertion. Two soldiers who caught him but who were also “tired of war” let Ratzinger go. Shortly thereafter, however, he was taken prisoner of war by the Americans before, on June 19, 1945, he was “overjoyed to hold the release certificate” that made the end of the war a reality for him too.
In 1951 – at the age of only 24 – he was ordained a priest. From the age of 31 Ratzinger taught and researched as a professor of theology. Ratzinger was an influential advisor to his predecessor John Paul II for almost a quarter of a century until his death. In Germany he repeatedly attracted criticism for his conservative attitude to church-political issues and was sometimes derided as “God’s Rottweiler”.
We are Pope!“Bild” newspaper, April 19, 2005
When the conclave elected Ratzinger as the first German Pope in almost 500 years on April 19, 2005, the “Bild” newspaper rejoiced: “We are Pope!”. His pontificate was overshadowed by power struggles within the church and the abuse scandal.
The German was the first pope to apologize for the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy and to meet with victims. But he acted hesitantly. His opponents have criticized him for failing to end the church’s cover-up of abuse scandals.
Most recently, allegations once again overshadowed the work of the former Pope: A report on sexual abuse in the church presented in Munich accused Benedict of making serious mistakes in dealing with a pedophile priest during his time as Archbishop of Munich.
Pope Benedict as a pioneer
As unprogressive as he was on some issues, in 2013 he surprised the church and the world with an unusual step. He resigned from his post for health reasons. Since then he has lived in seclusion in a former monastery in the Vatican Gardens. Ratzinger wrote church history with his resignation: Benedict was the first pope since 1415 to give up his office as head of the Catholic Church.
Benedict thus opened up a way out of the pontificate for his successors should their strength dwindle. According to his own statements, the current Pope Francis (86) was already preparing for a possible resignation when he took office. He suffers from pain in his right knee.
News from Rome: Former Pope Benedict XVI. is seriously ill(00:49)
Benedict recently withdrew almost entirely from the public eye. But in recent weeks he has continued to receive visitors while sitting in a wheelchair. Some photos published on online networks showed him increasingly frail.
In April, his longtime private secretary Georg Gänswein told the Vatican News that Benedict was “of course physically relatively weak and frail”, but “in good spirits”. A recent video released by the Vatican in August shows a weakened, emaciated Benedict with a hearing aid who can no longer speak – but still has an alert look. (chs/AFP)