The life and times of a controversial pope
Joseph Ratzinger in summer 1952. photographs: reuters/ap
In St Peter's Square in 2009. photographs: reuters/ap
Pope Benedict XVI greets a crowd in front of a huge portrait of Christ in Krakow in May 2006. photographs: reuters/ap
Cardinal Ratzinger with Pope John Paul II in 1979. photographs: reuters/ap
Profile: Even in the manner and nature of his sensational decision to resign as Pope, Benedict XVI generates strongly contrasting views. There are those who argue that nothing quite so becomes the man as the way in which he has stepped down from the job, acknowledging his “incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me”, as he stated yesterday.
For others, his resignation reads like a throwing-in of the towel that contrasts sharply with his predecessor, John Paul II, who remained at his post despite 10 years and more of bad health, in the process bearing poignant witness to the suffering of the ill.
For much of his public life, 85-year-old Benedict has generated such contrasting views. For some, his pontificate has been a reassuring, no frills moment in church history when the most traditional values of Catholic teaching were reinforced. For others, it has been a disaster writ large, a period when the church partially turned its back on the social teachings of Vatican Council II, paying too much attention to the “Liturgy and Lace” brigade, perhaps best represented by a traditionalist movement like the Society of St Pius X.
Even the early years of the future pope, who was born on Holy Saturday, 1927, in Traunstein, Bavaria, the third son of policeman Joseph Ratzinger Senior, ended up prompting bitter controversy. Critics have always argued that the future pope was a less than vigorous opponent of Nazism in a village which witnessed much anti-Semitic violence, deportation, displacement and death.
The same critics point to his having joined the Hitler Youth in 1941 as proof of his failure to contest Nazism. Benedict has always claimed that he had no choice, that joining the Hitler Youth had become compulsory for all German boys and that he was just one of millions to do so. Furthermore, supporters point out that his family suffered from the Nazi oppression, with one of his cousins, who suffered from Down syndrome, being arrested and sent to his death in a concentration camp.
Ordained a priest in 1951, the future pope spent little time at the “coalface” of church work, in the parish. A gifted academic, he taught at the universities of Bonn, Münster, Tübingen and Regensburg throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s before he was appointed archbishop of Munich in 1977.
That appointment lasted five years, until 1982, when he was called to Rome by John Paul II to head the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the one-time Holy Office. At the CDF Ratzinger became internationally known, proving himself a stout defender of orthodox Catholic teaching. In particular, he rejected the Latin American liberation theology teachings of Peruvian Gustavo Gutierrez and former Franciscan Leonardo Boff so vehemently he earned himself the media nickname “God’s rottweiller”.