New Pope Benedict XVI

German Catholic News Agency

Joseph Ratzinger, right rear, and his brother, Georg, in July 1951 after their ordinations, with their mother and father, Maria and Josef, and their sister, also named Maria, in Freising, in Bavaria

A Theological Visionary With Roots in Wartime Germany

ROME, April 19 – The man who has become Pope Benedict XVI was a product of wartime Germany, but also of a deeply Roman Catholic region, Bavaria.

As the Nazis strengthened their stranglehold on Germany in the 1930’s, the strongly Catholic family of Joseph Ratzinger moved frequently among villages in rural Bavaria.

"Unemployment was rife," he wrote in his memoir, "Milestones." "War reparations weighed heavily on the German economy. Battles among the political parties set people against one another." His father, he wrote, was a determined anti-Nazi.

The Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled, was his bulwark against the Nazi regime, "a citadel of truth and righteousness against the realm of atheism and deceit."

But he could not avoid the realities of the day. In an episode certain to be scrutinized anew, Joseph Ratzinger was briefly and unenthusiastically a member of the Hitler Youth in his early teens, after membership became mandatory in 1941, according to a biography by John L. Allen Jr., who covers the Vatican for The National Catholic Reporter.

In 1943, he and fellow seminarians were drafted. He deserted in 1945 and returned home, but was captured by American soldiers and held as a prisoner of war for several months, Mr. Allen wrote.

Along his way to the papacy, he built a distinguished academic career as a theologian, and then spent nearly a quarter century as Pope John Paul II’s theological visionary – and enforcer of strict positions on doctrine, morality and the primacy of the faith.

In addition to his subtle and powerful intellect lies a spiritual, almost mystical side rooted in the traditional Bavarian landscape of processions, devotions to Mary and small country parishes, said John-Peter Pham, a former Vatican diplomat who has written about Cardinal Ratzinger.

"It’s a Christianity of the heart, not unlike that of the late pope’s Poland," he said. "It’s much different than the cerebral theology traditionally associated with German theology."

His experience under the Nazis – he was 18 when the war ended – was formative in his view of the function of the church, Mr. Allen said.

"Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism," he wrote. "In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes."

Totalitarianism, indeed, critics might say.

They cite a long list of theologians Cardinal Ratzinger has chastised for straying from official doctrine; his condemnation of "relativism," or the belief that other denominations and faiths lead equally to salvation; his denunciation of liberation theology, homosexuality and feminism; his attempt to rein in national bishops conferences; his belief that the Second Vatican Council of the 1960’s, which led to a near-revolutionary modernization of the church, has brought corrosive excesses.

In effect, he has argued for a purer church at the expense of size.

Hans Küng, one of the theologians who ran afoul of him, has called his ideology a "medieval, anti-Reformation, anti-modern paradigm of the church and the papacy."

"To have him as pope will be considered by many Catholics to mean that the church is absolutely unable to reform itself," he said, "and that you are not to have any hope for the great process of the Second Vatican Council."

Along with Bavaria and Nazism, a third influence helped shape the new pope: the leftist-inspired student unrest of the 1960’s at the dawn of domestic German terrorism. He said it made him realize that, sometimes, there is no room for discussion.

Even before becoming the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger wielded immense power. John Paul appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former Holy Office. It was a deeply personal choice, made without his usual wide consultation.

Their regular Friday discussions were said to be often freewheeling.

The cardinal expanded the power of the role, ruling on a wide range of subjects. He was the first professional theologian in the job in more than a century, one equipped with a strong intellect and decisiveness.

"This is a man who can deal with a lot of difficult material without becoming upset," said the Rev. Augustine Di Noia, who was the under secretary of the congregation.

John Paul was said to have given Cardinal Ratzinger wide latitude; some called him the "vice pope." Other Vatican officials have suggested he served as a lightning rod, diverting criticism from the pope.

As dean of the College of Cardinals, he was also the most powerful of them – their leader in the period after John Paul’s death, the celebrant of his funeral Mass and their guide during the conclave.

Behind his fearsome reputation lies a "a simple person," Father Di Noia said. "He chuckles. There’s a simple childlike quality to him." Others speak of his dry sense of humor and modest demeanor.

He is a diminutive man with deep-set eyes and white hair, and speaks Italian – the language of the Vatican – with a strong German accent. Unlike John Paul, he had little time for sports or strenuous activity, other than walks in the mountains.

Until now, he lived in a small apartment near the Vatican and walked to work. He was perhaps the best-known cardinal, appearing at Vatican news conferences and known to many through his books and profiles of him in newspapers.

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn in Bavaria, the youngest of three children. It was a part of a region long within the orbit of Salzburg, in Austria, Mozart’s birthplace. A pianist, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed a great love for the composer.

Partly because of his father’s opposition to the Nazis, he wrote, the family moved four times before Joseph was 10. His mother was a hotel cook.

He entered the seminary in 1939. After conscription, he served in an antiaircraft unit. He has said the unit was attacked by Allied forces in 1943, but he did not take part in that battle because a finger infection had prevented him from learning to shoot. After about a year in the antiaircraft unit he was drafted into the regular military, sent home and then called up again before deserting in late April 1945, according to Mr. Allen. He told Time magazine in 1993 that while stationed near Hungary, he saw Hungarian Jews being sent to death camps.

In discussing his war experience, Mr. Allen wrote that he publicly expressed little of the explicit horrors that were around him; of the resistance to the Nazis by groups other than Catholics; or of the anti-Semitism of a prominent great-uncle.

In the fall after the war ended in 1945, he returned to the seminary, where his brother, Georg – who was soon to be a prominent church music director – was also enrolled. The brothers were was ordained in 1951; two years later Joseph Ratzinger earned his doctorate at the University of Munich. His dissertation was titled "The People and House of God in St. Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church." He earned his teaching licentiate in 1957.

One of his most influential books was an early work from his university lectures, "Introduction to Christianity." He also wrote "Dogma and Revelation" and "Eschatology."

In his view, the church does not exist so that it can be incorporated into the world, but so as to offer a way to live. It is not a human edifice but a divinely created one. And theology is not a dry academic exercise. Theologians should support church teaching to serve the faithful, not depart from it.

His career as an academic began immediately after he was licensed. He spent two years teaching dogma and fundamental theology at the University of Freising and 10 years at the University of Bonn. He also had stints at the universities Münster and Tübingen. Alienated by the student protests at Tübingen, he moved to Regensburg in 1969.

In a 1985 interview with The New York Times, he called the protests "a radical attack on human freedom and dignity, a deep threat to all that is human." Such actions taught him, he said, that to discuss terror was to collaborate with it. "I learned where discussion must stop because it is turning into a lie and resistance must begin in order to maintain freedom."

Already in 1962, at 35, he achieved prominence at the highest levels of the church. A mutual acquaintance introduced him to Cardinal Joseph Frings, archbishop of Cologne. Cardinal Frings asked him to serve as his expert assistant at the Second Vatican Council. Father Ratzinger was credited with pushing Cardinal Frings to join French and other German bishops in standing firm against the Vatican Curia members who wanted to hold back council reforms. He also helped write a speech criticizing the Holy Office, the predecessor to his future home, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The speech called it outmoded and a "source of scandal to the world."

Yet within a decade he came to express deep worry that the church was drifting to the left and losing its ecclesiastical rigor.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich, and made him a cardinal in just three months. That same year, he met the future John Paul II, although some have said that they might have met at the Second Vatican Council. They both spent their youths under totalitarianism, but they also had a feeling that the church was adrift in a permissive sea, and that there was a need to return to the fundamentals.

John Paul appointed him to the doctrinal congregation in 1981. Soon, he was taking action against liberation theology, the Marxist-inspired movement of priests in Latin America to help the poor by radical restructuring of society. The congregation denounced the movement in 1984; Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian liberation theologian, was summoned and silenced for a year.

Other theologians were chastised. Charles E. Curran, a theologian at Catholic University of America, was barred in 1986 from teaching at a Catholic institution for refusing to recant his challenge to church teaching on sexuality. The Rev. Tissa Balasuriya, a Sri Lanka theologian, was excommunicated in 1997 after being accused of challenging fundamental Catholic tenets like original sin and the Immaculate Conception. More than a dozen others have been disciplined by the congregation.

With the end of the cold war, Cardinal Ratzinger turned his attention to fighting "relativism." His congregation’s 2000 declaration "Dominus Jesus" – "Lord Jesus" – said other religions could not offer salvation, and were "gravely deficient." An uproar from other religious leaders followed, but John Paul publicly defended the document.

Even as he celebrated the Mass leading into the conclave on Monday morning, Cardinal Ratzinger called relativism a "dictatorship" under which the ego and personal desires are paramount.

One of his major efforts, which many say has been successful, was to sap national bishops’ conferences of power – and even here he harkened back to the war. The German conference issued "wan and weak" condemnations of Nazism; the truly powerful documents, he said, "came from individual courageous bishops."

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A Quick Conclave
Tuesday April 19, 2005 6:00PM PT

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI Habemus Papam. We have a new Pope. Tuesday evening in Rome, after just two days of deliberation, white smoke filtered from the Sistine Chapel (+212%), bells rang, and the tens of thousands gathered outside St. Peter’s Basilica greeted the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, favored by many as one of the most-likely papal contenders, was elected the new pontiff and chose the name Pope Benedict XVI. He becomes the first German pope in nearly 1,000 years.

Rumors the next pope might hail from Africa or Latin America or be a dark horse, as John Paul II was when elected in 1978, proved wrong. Under a veil of utmost secrecy (the Vatican installed anti-bugging devices beneath a false floor in the Sistine Chapel) the 115 cardinals voted in one of the past century’s fastest papal elections. Ireland’s largest site for online gambling, Paddy Power (+41% in Buzz), reported bets being placed on the next pope up to the last minute. Our own investigations at the Search box prior to the election revealed Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze as the most-searched-on candidate, followed by Cardinals Dionigi Tettamanzi from Italy, Joseph Ratzinger, and Claudio Hummes from Brazil.

The new Pontiff’s homily at the funeral of John Paul II impressed many, and his work as the doctrinal watchdog for the Vatican ensures that he will uphold the conservative values long espoused by the former pope. (He was once known as "the pope’s enforcer.") As of this writing, buzz on Pope Benedict XVI was through the roof, and we expect to see searches on the German religious leader continue to rise. After the news broke the following searches spiked throughout the day…

L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

During the mass, Benedict XVI set out some of the themes of his papacy in conciliatory language.

Pope Benedict Sets Out Papal Goals in First Public Mass

VATICAN CITY, April 20 – Pope Benedict XVI today used his first papal Mass to send a message of openness and reconciliation to his Roman Catholic followers, to other Christian churches and to "everybody, even those who follow other religions or who simply look for an answer to life’s fundamental questions and still haven’t found it."

He said that like his predecessor John Paul II, his "primary task" would be to work toward "the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers," and added: "Theological dialogue is necessary."

It was a striking shift in tone from a mere two days ago, when he entered the conclave in the Sistine Chapel as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a theologian who had served for the last 24 years as the often-feared chief interpreter – and enforcer – of Roman Catholic doctrine. In a homily just before the conclave began on Monday, Cardinal Ratzinger had denounced what he called a "dictatorship of relativism" and "new sects" that indoctrinate believers through "human trickery."

However, today, on the first full day of the new papacy, many of the cardinals who elected Benedict appeared to be engaged in an effort to both explain their decision and to transform his image from authoritarian doctrinal watchdog to humble servant and pastor.

Several cardinals gave news conferences and many agreed to interviews, describing the new pope as "compassionate," "collegial" and "shy." All seven American cardinal-archbishops appeared at an unusual news conference in Rome this morning and in similar language tried to introduce the world to a different side of the new pope.

"We just have to be very careful about caricaturizing the Holy Father and very simply putting labels upon this man of the church," said Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles. "I’ve already seen some headlines in our country doing that. And I think that’s a mistake."

They explained that Benedict had been chosen in a relatively speedy four rounds of balloting because of his brilliance as a theologian, his deep spirituality and his ability to communicate the faith with clarity.

"The vision that some have of the Holy Father is someone who is not interested in dialogue. That’s a skewed vision," said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. "I believe you will find in the papacy of Benedict XVI a good deal of consultation, a good deal of collegiality."

He added that Pope Benedict was "someone who has been one of the great exponents" of the Second Vatican Council.

"When he was head of the Doctrine of the Faith, he had a particular task to do, which was to uphold and make sure the traditions of the church, doctrinally, morally, were upheld," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster, England, in a separate news conference. "Now that he is pope it is an entirely different concept altogether. Now he is Peter for the whole church."

The problem of Benedict’s public image and the contrast with his warmer predecessor was summed up in a front-page cartoon in Corriere della Serra, Italy’s most respected newspaper. It assumed that readers remembered John Paul II’s now-famous introduction as pope from the basilica balcony in August 1978.

"I do not know whether I can express myself in your – in our – Italian language. If I make mistakes," he added, beaming and endearing himself to Italians, "you will correct me."

The cartoon showed Benedict at the same balcony looking out at the crowds. "And If I make a mistake, woe to you if you correct me!"

Meantime, the Vatican began introducing Benedict XVI to the world through television: It released video of the new pope, dressed in a white cassock and skullcap, as he walked into the papal apartments. He sat down at his new desk, and with a black marker, signed his new name to a sheet of paper. The video also showed him greeting cheering Vatican officials, and getting out of a grey papal car.

The Vatican also gave a brief description of his first full day as pope: In the morning he visited his former staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he headed until the death of John Paul. He ate lunch with members of the curia, the Vatican bureaucracy. He also visited the apartment where he lived until now, on Piazza della Citta Leonina, a few blocks from the Vatican.

On Friday he will visit again with all the cardinals in Rome. Then on Saturday, he is expected to meet with journalists. A Vatican official said it had not been decided whether he will answer questions, though both John Paul I and John Paul II did respond to some questions during similar meetings with journalists soon after their elections.

On St. Peter’s Square, with no more smoke to watch for, the bustle of the two days of the conclave had settled down to normal. Souvenir shops had not yet stocked the usual run of papal souvenirs the prayer cards, rosaries, statuettes, postcards with the image of Benedict, though owners assured the few customers who asked that it would only be a few days.

One shop facing St. Peter’s Square did have copies of his photograph, large and small, and Jim Roccio, 66, from Johnstown, Pa., managed to buy the last one before they sold out this afternoon. Mr. Roccio, a travel agent who calls himself a moderate Catholic, said he was happy to hear that Benedict was working to soften his image.

"From things I read about him, I had my doubts," said Mr. Roccio, who was in St. Peter’s Square when the election was announced. "But watching him on the balcony, his first words that he wanted to be humble I thought he was reaching out saying that ‘I might have had some different opinions, but know I know I am not just a cardinal.’

"To me, that’s what appeals to me right now," he said. "He’s not saying: ‘Here I am, you have to take me as I am.’"

On the square, two young German Catholics writing postcards in front of the basilica said they were thrilled at a new German pope, especially one, like them, from Bavaria. But they too said they hoped that Benedict’s efforts to reach out were sincere.

"In the past he was a conservative," said Hans Reichhart, 22, who grew up about 40 miles from the town where Benedict did. "But I hope that he changes his mind to the time before he came to Rome, because he was a progressive. I hope that he will bring new life to the church."

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