Pope Benedict

QUESTION: Who is Pope Benedict?


Pope Benedict, designated Benedict the XVI was born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in 1927 in the southeastern rural German state called Bavaria. His father's occupation was policeman; the family was always devoutly Catholic. Ratzinger actually began studying for the priesthood in 1939 at the early age of twelve. He enrolled and served in the Hitler Youth, a Nazi Youth organization at the age of fourteen. This was a mandatory membership for all German high school students during that time period (1939-1945). He deserted the army in 1944 showing his disdain for Nazism. The future Pope Benedict spent a brief time as a U.S. prisoner of war.

Joseph Alois Ratzinger has the notable distinction of being the first prominent scholar of theology to be elected pope since the selection of Benedict XIV in 1740. He is considered a Master of Theology having received his doctorate in the field from the University of Munich in 1953. Ratzinger taught theology at the Higher School for Philosophy and Theology in Freising, Germany. He also taught at the University of Bonn and the University of Münster, the University of Tübingen and the University of Regensburg. Joseph Ratzinger served as a theological expert to Cardinal Joseph Frings, the archbishop of Cologne during the Second Vatican Council throughout the years 1962 to 1965.

The Second Vatican Council was responsible for the institution of many reforms in Catholicism including the elevation of the importance of the laity in Church life, conducting Mass in the vernacular languages, granting discretion to local clergy away from the Vatican and general religious liberty. There were those who applauded these changes and hoped that they were stepping stones to more religious liberties but Joseph Alois Ratzinger began to align himself with a splinter group who felt that enough concessions had been made and began leaning back to the left.

Joseph Ratzinger was appointed archbishop of Munich-Freising in 1977. He was subsequently made a Cardinal in the same year. Along with John Paul II, Ratzinger took a hard stance against doctrinal novelty and innovations; they saw proposed and sought after reforms as dangerous. Ratzinger maintained this stance as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in his teachings and writings.

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was elected Pope on April 4, 2005 -- the second day of the conclave on the fourth ballot. He thus became the first German pope since Victor II who died in 1057. Reactions to his election are divided. Advocates for changes in policy with respect to birth control, gay and lesbian rights, abortion and the ordination of women and married men are disappointed and disillusionment with Ratzingers avowed conservative beliefs.

Those in favor of continuity are pleased. However, all are watching his potential influence upon legislation and public policy. A notable controversial issue is the accession to the European Union of Turkey. Ratzinger feels that it will be a mistake. Another controversial powder keg is the Vatican's hostility towards liberation theology. Liberation Theology is a Latin American doctrine which embraces the idea that liberation of the poor from economic and social oppression is part of the Christian redemption and should be accomplished at all costs, with force if necessary.

Catholics and the entire world will have to wait and see.

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