Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Primary: Pope Benedict XVI

Alternate(s): Benedict XVI Ratzinger

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected on April 19, 2005, to be the 265th Roman Pontiff, taking the name Benedict XVI. Previously he had been the dean of the College of Cardinals and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He was born in Germany on April 16, 1927, which was Holy Saturday that year, and baptized at the Easter Vigil services. His seminary training was interrupted by World War II, when he was inducted into the German army, deserted, and was briefly interned in an American POW camp.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1951, he earned a doctorate in theology at the University of Munich, and became a theology professor first at the University of Bonn, then the University of Tübingen (where he was a colleague of Hans Küng), and finally at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria. By the mid-1960s he had established himself as one of the world's leading Catholic theologians. He attended all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, as a peritus, or theological adviser, working for Cologne's Cardinal Josef Frings.

In 1977 he was named Archbishop of Munich, and elevated to the College of Cardinals later that year by Pope Paul VI. In 1981 he was called to Rome by Pope John Paul II, who asked him to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith-- the top theological post at the Holy See.

Cardinal Ratzinger has offered his resignation on at least two occasions, but Pope John Paul-- who relies heavily upon him-- has asked him to remain at his post even after reaching the ordinary retirement age. His slight stature and his genial nature belie the public image of him as the "Panzer Cardinal."

Cardinal Ratzinger participated in an extraordinary conversation with the journalist Peter Seewald, probing the nature of religious faith. (Seewald, an agnostic when the project began, converted to Catholicism after his talks with the cardinal.) The conversation has been published in book form as God and the World.

An earlier extended interview with Cardinal Ratzinger, on the problems facing the Catholic Church today, raised headlines and generated controversy when it was published as The Ratzinger Report

Among the cardinal's theological works-- many of which are available in English translation through Ignatius Press-- the most recent is The Spirit of the Liturgy.