Pope Benedict XVI

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Benedict XVI
Birth name Joseph Alois Ratzinger
Papacy began April 19, 2005
Papacy ended Incumbent
Predecessor John Paul II
Successor Incumbent
Born April 16, 1927 (age 79)
Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany
Other Popes named Benedict
Papal Arms of Pope Benedict XVI. The papal tiara was replaced with a bishop's mitre, and pallium of the Pope was added beneath the coat of arms.
Papal Arms of Pope Benedict XVI. The papal tiara was replaced with a bishop's mitre, and pallium of the Pope was added beneath the coat of arms.
Styles of
Pope Benedict XVI
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style NA

Pope Benedict XVI (Latin: Benedictus PP. XVI; Italian: Benedetto XVI), born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on April 16, 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany) is the 265th and reigning Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, and as such, Sovereign of the Vatican City State. He was elected on April 19, 2005 in a papal conclave, celebrated his Papal Inauguration Mass on April 24, 2005, and took possession of his cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, on May 7, 2005. Pope Benedict XVI has both German and Vatican citizenship. He succeeded Pope John Paul II, who died on April 2, 2005.

One of the best-known theologians since the 1960s and a prolific author, Benedict XVI is viewed as a defender of traditional Catholic doctrine and values and of their importance in the survival of Western civilization. He served as a professor at various German universities, and was a theological consultant at the Second Vatican Council before becoming Archbishop of Munich and Freising and Cardinal. At the time of his election as Pope, Benedict had been Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (curial heads lose their positions upon the death of a pope) and was Dean of the College of Cardinals.

During his papacy, Benedict XVI has emphasized what he sees as a need for Europe to return to fundamental Christian values in response to increasing de- Christianisation and secularisation in many developed countries. For this reason, he has identified relativism's denial of objective truth—and more particularly, the denial of moral truths—as the central problem of the 21st century. He has taught about the importance for the Catholic Church and for humanity of contemplating God's salvific love and has reaffirmed the "importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work."


Pope Benedict XVI at a private audience on January 20, 2006.
Pope Benedict XVI at a private audience on January 20, 2006.

Benedict XVI was elected Pope at the age of 78. He is the oldest person to have been elected Pope since Pope Clement XII (1730–40). He had served longer as a cardinal than any Pope since Benedict XIII (1724–30). He is the ninth German Pope, the eighth having been the Dutch-German Pope Adrian VI (1522–23) from Utrecht. The last Pope named Benedict was Benedict XV, an Italian who reigned from 1914 to 1922, during World War I (1914–18).

Born in 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany, Benedict XVI had a distinguished career as a university theologian before being appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising by Pope Paul VI (1963–78). Shortly afterwards, he was made a cardinal in the consistory of June 27, 1977. He was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1981 and was also assigned the honorific title of the cardinal bishop of the suburbicarian diocese of Velletri- Segni on April 5, 1993. In 1998, he was elected sub-dean of the College of Cardinals. And on November 30, 2002, he was elected dean, taking, as is customary, the title of Cardinal bishop of the suburbicarian diocese of Ostia. He was the first Dean of the College elected Pope since Paul IV (1555–59) and the first cardinal bishop elected Pope since Pius VIII (1829–30).

Before becoming Pope, Benedict XVI was one of the most influential men in the Roman Curia, and was a close associate of the late John Paul II. As Dean of the College of Cardinals, he presided over the funeral of John Paul II and over the Mass immediately preceding the 2005 conclave in which he was elected. During the service, he called on the assembled cardinals to hold fast to the doctrine of the faith. He was the public face of the church in the sede vacante period, although, technically, he ranked below the camerlengo in administrative authority during that time. Like his predecessor, Benedict XVI maintains the traditional Catholic doctrines on artificial birth control, abortion, and homosexuality while promoting Catholic social teaching.

As well as his native German, Benedict XVI fluently speaks Italian, French, English, Spanish and Latin, and has a knowledge of Portuguese. He can read Ancient Greek and biblical Hebrew. He is a member of a large number of academies, such as the French Académie des sciences morales et politiques. He plays the piano and has a preference for Mozart and Beethoven.

Early life (1927–1951)

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born on 16 April, Holy Saturday, 1927 at Schulstraße 11, at 8:30 in the morning in his parents' home in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany. He was baptized the same day. He was the third and youngest child of Joseph Ratzinger, Sr., a police officer, and Maria Ratzinger (née Peintner). His mother's family was originally from South Tyrol. Pope Benedict XVI's brother, Georg Ratzinger, a priest and former director of the Regensburger Domspatzen choir, is still alive. His sister, Maria Ratzinger, who never married, managed Cardinal Ratzinger's household until her death in 1991. Their great-uncle was the German politician Georg Ratzinger.

The pope's relatives agree that his priestly vocation was apparent from boyhood. At the age of five, Ratzinger was in a group of children who welcomed the visiting Cardinal Archbishop of Munich with flowers. Struck by the Cardinal's distinctive garb, he later announced the very same day that he wanted to be a cardinal.

Following his fourteenth birthday in 1941, Ratzinger was enrolled in the Hitler Youth (a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party) - membership being legally required after December 1936. -, but was an unenthusiastic member and refused to attend meetings. His father was a bitter enemy of Nazism, believing it conflicted with the Catholic faith. In 1941, one of Ratzinger's cousins, a child with Down syndrome, was killed by the Nazi regime in its campaign of eugenics. In 1943 while still in seminary, he was drafted at age 16 into the German anti-aircraft corps. Ratzinger then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigors of military duty. As the Allied front drew closer to his post in 1945, he returned to his family's home in Traunstein after his unit had ceased to exist, just as American troops established their headquarters in the Ratzinger household. As a German soldier, he was put in a POW camp but was released a few months later at the end of the War in summer 1945. He re-entered the seminary, along with his brother Georg, in November of that year.

Following repatriation in 1945, the two brothers entered Saint Michael Seminary in Traunstein, later studying at the Ducal Georgianum (Herzogliches Georgianum) of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. They were both ordained on June 29, 1951 by Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber of Munich. Joseph Ratzinger's dissertation (1953) was on St. Augustine and was entitled "The People and the House of God in Augustine's Doctrine of the Church". His Habilitation (which qualified him for a professorship) was on Bonaventure. It was completed in 1957 and he became a professor of Freising College in 1958.

Pre-papal career

Academic career (1951–1977)

Cardinal Ratzinger offers an oath of submission at the September, 1978 papal inauguration of John Paul I.
Cardinal Ratzinger offers an oath of submission at the September, 1978 papal inauguration of John Paul I.

Ratzinger became a professor at the University of Bonn in 1959; his inaugural lecture was on "The God of Faith and the God of Philosophy." In 1963, he moved to the University of Münster, where his inaugural lecture was given in a packed lecture hall, as he was already well known as a theologian.

In 1966, Joseph Ratzinger was appointed to a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen, where he was a colleague of Hans Küng. In his 1968 book Introduction to Christianity, he wrote that the pope has a duty to hear differing voices within the Church before making a decision, and he downplayed the centrality of the papacy. He also wrote that the Church of the time was too centralized, rule-bound and overly controlled from Rome. During this time, he distanced himself from the atmosphere of Tübingen and the Marxist leanings of the student movement of the 1960s that quickly radicalised, in Germany, in the years 1967 and 1968, culminating in a series of disturbances and riots in April and May 1968. Ratzinger came increasingly to see these and associated developments (such as decreasing respect for authority among his students and the rise of the German gay rights movement) as connected to a departure from traditional Catholic teachings. Despite his reformist bent, his views increasingly came to contrast with the liberal ideas gaining currency in theological circles. During his years at the Second Vatican Council and Tübingen University, professor Joseph Ratzinger publicized articles in the reformist theological journal Concilium, though he increasingly chose less reformist themes than other contributors to the magazine such as Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx.

In 1969, he returned to Bavaria, to the University of Regensburg, a less reformist academic environment. He founded the theological journal Communio, with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, Walter Kasper and others, in 1972. Communio, now published in seventeen languages, including German, English and Spanish, has become a prominent journal of contemporary Catholic theological thought. Until his election as Pope, he remained one of the journal's most prolific contributors.

Second Vatican Council (1962–1965)

During this period, Ratzinger participated in the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Ratzinger served as a peritus or theological consultant to Josef Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany, and has continued to defend the council, including Nostra Aetate, the document on respect of other religions, ecumenism and the declaration of the right to freedom of religion. (Later, as the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger most clearly spelled out the Catholic Church's position on other religions in the document Dominus Iesus (2000) which also talks about the proper way to engage in ecumenical dialogue). He was viewed during the time of the Council as a reformer, cooperating with radical Modernist theologians like Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx. Ratzinger became an admirer of Karl Rahner, a well-known academic theologian of the Nouvelle Théologie and a proponent of church reform.

Cardinal and Archbishop of Munich and Freising (1977–1982)

Palais Holnstein in Munich, the residence of Benedict as Archbishop of Munich and Freising
Palais Holnstein in Munich, the residence of Benedict as Archbishop of Munich and Freising

In March 1977, Ratzinger was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising. He took as his episcopal motto Cooperatores Veritatis (Co-workers of the Truth) from 3 John 8, a choice he comments upon in his autobiographical work, Milestones.

In the consistory of June 1977, he was named Cardinal-Priest of S. Marie Consolatrice al Tiburtino by Pope Paul VI. By the time of the 2005 Conclave, he was one of only fourteen remaining cardinals appointed by Paul VI, and one of only three of those under the age of 80. Of these, only he and William Cardinal Baum took part in the Conclave.

Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1981–2005)

On November 25, 1981, Pope John Paul II named Ratzinger Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Holy Office, the historical Inquisition. Consequently, he resigned his post at Munich in early 1982. He was promoted within the College of Cardinals to become Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993, was made the College's vice-dean in 1998 and dean in 2002.

In office, Ratzinger fulfilled his institutional role, defending and reaffirming official Catholic doctrine, including teaching on topics such as birth control, homosexuality, and inter-religious dialogue. During his period in office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took disciplinary measures against some outspoken liberation theologians in Latin America and Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello.


Election to the papacy


On January 2, 2005, Time magazine quoted unnamed Vatican sources as saying that Ratzinger was a frontrunner to succeed John Paul II should the pope die or become too ill to continue as pope. On the death of John Paul II, the Financial Times gave the odds of Ratzinger becoming pope as 7–1, the lead position, but close to his rivals on the liberal wing of the church. In April 2005, before his election as pope, he was identified as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. While Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger repeatedly stated he would like to retire to a Bavarian village and dedicate himself to writing books, but prior to the death of John Paul II, he told friends he was "ready to accept any charge God placed on him".

Piers Paul Read wrote in The Spectator on March 5, 2005:

Pope Benedict XVI
There can be little doubt that his courageous promotion of orthodox Catholic teaching has earned him the respect of his fellow cardinals throughout the world. He is patently holy, highly intelligent and sees clearly what is at stake. Indeed, for those who blame the decline of Catholic practice in the developed world precisely on the propensity of many European bishops to hide their heads in the sand, a pope who confronts it may be just what is required. Ratzinger is no longer young—he is 78 years old: but Angelo Roncalli, who revolutionized Catholicism by calling the Second Vatican Council was almost the same age (76) when he became pope as John XXIII. As Jeff Israely, the correspondent of Time, was told by a Vatican insider last month, "The Ratzinger solution is definitely on.
Pope Benedict XVI

Though Ratzinger was increasingly considered the front runner by much of the international media, others maintained that his election was far from certain since very few papal predictions in modern history had come true. The elections of both John Paul II and his predecessor, John Paul I had been rather unexpected. Despite being the favourite (or perhaps because he was the favourite), it was a surprise to many that he was actually elected.


On April 19, 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as the successor to Pope John Paul II on the second day of the papal conclave after four ballots. Cardinal Ratzinger had hoped to retire peacefully and said that "At a certain point, I prayed to God 'please don't do this to me'...Evidently, this time He didn't listen to me." Coincidentally, April 19 is the feast of St. Leo IX, the most important German pope of the Middle Ages, known for instituting major reforms during his pontificate.

Before his first appearance at the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica after becoming pope, he was announced by Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez, protodeacon of the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Medina Estévez first addressed the massive crowd as "dear(est) brothers and sisters" in Italian, Spanish, French, German and English, with each language receiving cheers from the international crowd, before continuing with the traditional Habemus Papam announcement in Latin.

At the balcony, Benedict's first words to the crowd, given in Italian before he gave the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing in Latin, were:

Pope Benedict XVI
Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with insufficient instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help, let us move forward. The Lord will help us, and Mary, His Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.
Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict then gave the blessing to the people.

On April 24, he was inaugurated in St. Peters, formally becoming the 265th pope by the official Vatican reckoning. Then, on May 7, he was enthroned in a mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.


In the early 1990s, Ratzinger suffered a stroke, which slightly impaired his eyesight temporarily. This was known to the Conclave that elected him Pope. In May 2005, the Vatican revealed that he had subsequently suffered another mild stroke; it did not reveal when, other than that it had occurred between 2003 and 2005. France's Philippe Cardinal Barbarin further revealed that since the first stroke, Ratzinger had been suffering from a heart condition as a result of his age, and is currently on medication. Because of these age-related health problems, and in order to have free time to write, he had hoped to retire, and submitted his resignation twice, but had continued at his post in obedience to the wishes of Pope John Paul II. It is also notable that he appears to be in far better health than his predecessor was at the age of 79.

Choice of name

The choice of the regnal name Benedict, which in Latin means "the blessed," is significant. Benedict XVI used his first General Audience in St. Peter's Square, on April 27, 2005, to explain to the world why he chose the name:

Pope Benedict XVI
Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples. Additionally, I recall Saint Benedict of Nursia, co- patron of Europe, whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe. I ask him to help us all to hold firm to the centrality of Christ in our Christian life: May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions!
Pope Benedict XVI

Tone of papacy

Pope Benedict XVI's first trip in the Pope's car
Pope Benedict XVI's first trip in the Pope's car

Pope Benedict has confounded the expectations of many in his papacy by his gentle public persona and his promise to listen.

During his inaugural Mass, the previous custom of every cardinal submitting to the Pope was replaced by having twelve people, including cardinals, clergy, religious, a married couple and their child, and newly confirmed people, submit to him. (The cardinals had formally sworn their obedience upon his election.)

He has begun using an open-topped papal automobile, saying that he wanted to be closer to the people.

Benedict's coat of arms has officially omitted the papal tiara, which traditionally appears in the background to designate the Pope's position, and replaced it with a simple mitre. However, some papal documents since his inauguration have included with the papal tiara. Since it is the shield and not the background which is unique to the individual Pope, various backgrounds are possible (though rarely used) for even a single shield.

Pope Benedict XVI has been using papal clothing which had previously fallen into disuse. During his installment address, he spoke at length about the significance of the pallium and has returned to an ancient version, an Eastern design, used by first millennium pontiffs. He has also worn the red satin mozzetta and its ermine-trimmed winter version that has not been seen since Pope Paul VI. His house cassock ( simar or cassock with shoulder cape) also includes the upper half-sleeves discontinued for all other clerics by the authority of Paul VI's motu proprio "Pontificalis Domus" of 1968. Pope Benedict XVI has also continued the use of the red papal outdoor cloak. On December 21, 2005, the pope began wearing the camauro for his general audiences; the traditional papal hat had not been seen since the pontificate of Pope John XXIII (1958 - 1963). On September 6, 2006 the pope wore the red capello Romano (also called a saturno). Rarely used by John Paul II, it was more widely worn by his predecessors.

One item of clothing that Benedict has not worn to date is the papal tiara. Like his two immediate predecessors, Benedict chose not to be crowned with the tiara during his Inauguration Mass, nor has he worn it since that time. Other traditional items unused by the pope include the vestmental gloves, known as gauntlets.

Pastoral activity

Pope Benedict has continued the tradition of his predecessor John Paul II and baptised several infants in the Sistine Chapel at the beginning of 2006, in his pastoral role as Bishop of Rome.


On May 9, 2005, Benedict XVI began the beatification process for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Normally, five years must pass after a person's death before the beatification process can begin. However, in an audience with Pope Benedict, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome and the official responsible for promoting the cause for canonization of any person who dies within that diocese, cited "exceptional circumstances" which suggested that the waiting period could be waived. The "exceptional circumstances" apparently refer to the cries of "Santo subito!" ("Saint now!") during the late pontiff's funeral (saints can be declared by popular acclaim, although this is rare). Therefore, the Pope waived the five year rule "so that the cause of Beatification and Canonization of the same Servant of God can begin immediately." The decision was announced on May 13, 2005, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima and the 24th anniversary of the attempt on John Paul II's life. John Paul II often credited Our Lady of Fatima for preserving him on that day. Cardinal Ruini inaugurated the diocesan phase of the cause for beatification in the Lateran Basilica on June 28, 2005.

The first beatification under the new Pope was celebrated on May 14, 2005, by José Cardinal Saraiva Martins. The new Blesseds were Mother Marianne Cope and Mother Ascensión Nicol Goñi. Mariano de la Mata is reported to be beatified in November 2006, and Fr. Basil Moreau scheduled to be beatified by next year.

Unlike his predecessor, Benedict XVI delegated the beatification liturgical service to a Cardinal. On September 29, 2005, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued a communiqué announcing that henceforth beatifications would be celebrated by a representative of the Pope, usually the Prefect of that Congregation.


Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his first Canonizations on October 23, 2005 in St. Peter's Square when he canonized Josef Bilczewski, Alberto Hurtado SJ, Zygmunt Gorazdowski, Gaetano Catanoso, and Felice da Nicosia. The canonizations were part of a Mass that marked the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops and the Year of the Eucharist. Pope Benedict XVI canonized Bishop Rafael Guizar Valencia, Mother Theodore Guerin, Filippo Smaldone, and Rosa Venerini on October 15, 2006.

The Curia


Since their terms had ended on the death of the previous pope, Benedict reappointed after his election all former senior officers of the Roman Curia, though most only in a provisional manner. This assured an easy transition into a new pontificate.

Benedict's first major new appointment was that of his successor as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On May 13, 2005, Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal William Levada, Archbishop of San Francisco, of the United States of America. Levada participated in the drafting of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, although his private views are not well known.

This appointment was followed by that of Archbishop Malcom Ranjith as Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. Archbishop Ranjith, known to be a traditional Catholic who has long been close to the positions of Joseph Ratzinger, replaced Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, who was recently appointed Bishop of Assisi.

The principal political office, the Cardinal Secretary of State, which is often likened to the pope's Prime Minister, is Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, replacing Angelo Cardinal Sodano.

On 31 October 2006, Pope Benedict appointed Cardinal Hummes to be the Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, succeeding Darío Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos due to his age.


Pope Benedict began slimming the structure of the Roman Curia, when he merged four existing pontifical councils into two in March 2006. The Pontifical Council for Migrants and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace were consolidated into one office headed by Justice and Peace Cardinal President Renato Raffaele Martino. Likewise, Cardinal Paul Poupard, who headed the Pontifical Council for Culture, now also oversees the operations of what had been the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. In the short term, two top prelates — Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao and British Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald — lost their Curial positions in the mergers.


As Pope, Benedict XVI's main role is to teach about the Catholic faith and the solutions to the problems of discerning and living the faith, a role that he can play well as a former head of the Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The main points of emphasis of his teachings are stated in more detail in Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.

Friendship with Jesus Christ

Benedict XVI:  "The eucharist is the enduring presence of Jesus' self-oblation." (Deus Caritas Est)
Benedict XVI: "The eucharist is the enduring presence of Jesus' self-oblation." ( Deus Caritas Est)

According to commentators, during the Inaugural Mass, the core of the Pope's message, the most moving and famous part, is found in the last paragraph of his homily where he referred to both Jesus Christ and John Paul II. After referring to John Paul II's well-known words, "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!", Benedict XVI said:

Pope Benedict XVI
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?...And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation....When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.
Pope Benedict XVI

"Friendship with Jesus Christ" is a theme of his preaching which is found in many of Benedict's homilies and addresses, for example his address to the priests of Rome, his Episcopal diocese, to the cardinals in the pre-conclave, and to an audience of 150,000 people, among whom were children going to their First Communion. He has also said: "We are all called to open ourselves to this friendship with God... speaking to him as to a friend, the only One who can make the world both good and happy... (T)hat all we have to do is put ourselves at his disposal...is an extremely important message. It is a message that helps to overcome what can be considered the great temptation of our time: the claim, that after the Big Bang, God withdrew from history."

He took up this theme once more in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est. In his personal explanation and summary of the encyclical, he stated: "If friendship with God becomes for us something ever more important and decisive, then we will begin to love those whom God loves and who are in need of us. God wants us to be friends of his friends and we can be so, if we are interiorly close to them." Thus, he said that prayer is "urgently needed...It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work."

"Dictatorship of Relativism"

Continuing what he said in the pre-conclave Mass about what he has often referred to as the "central problem of our faith today", on June 6, 2005 Pope Benedict also said:

Pope Benedict XVI
Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego.
Pope Benedict XVI

He added that the world is "moving towards a dictatorship of relativism." Benedict traced the failed revolutions and violent ideologies of the twentieth century to a conversion of partial points of view into absolute guides: during World Youth Day, he said "Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism".

In an address to a conference of the Diocese of Rome held at the basilica of St. John Lateran June 6, 2005, Benedict remarked on the issues of same-sex marriage and abortion:

The various forms of the dissolution of matrimony today, like free unions, trial marriages and going up to pseudo-matrimonies by people of the same sex, are rather expressions of an anarchic freedom that wrongly passes for true freedom of man...from here it becomes all the more clear how contrary it is to human love, to the profound vocation of man and woman, to systematically close their union to the gift of life, and even worse to suppress or tamper with the life that is born.

This has drawn sharp criticism from Catholic gay rights advocates like journalist Andrew Sullivan, who claim that Benedict is espousing a form of fundamentalist edict, and is opposed to external questioning of his doctrines. Supporters of the Pope argue that traditional Catholic teachings hold homosexual acts (as opposed to merely a homosexual orientation) as sinful and that Benedict XVI is simply being loyal to these teachings.

Christianity as the Religion according to Reason

Ratzinger debates  with German philosopher Jürgen Habermas at the Catholic Academy of Bavaria, Germany in 2004.
Ratzinger debates with German philosopher Jürgen Habermas at the Catholic Academy of Bavaria, Germany in 2004.

In the discussion with secularism and rationalism, one of Benedict's basic ideas can be found in his address on the "Crisis of Culture" in the West, a day before Pope John Paul II died, when he referred to Christianity as the Religion of the Word (the original Greek, Logos, meaning reason, meaning, or intelligence). He said:

Pope Benedict XVI
From the beginning, Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the Logos, as the religion according to reason...It has always defined men, all men without distinction, as creatures and images of God, proclaiming for them...the same dignity. In this connection, the Enlightenment is of Christian origin and it is no accident that it was born precisely and exclusively in the realm of the Christian faith....It was and is the merit of the Enlightenment to have again proposed these original values of Christianity and of having given back to reason its own voice... Today, this should be precisely [Christianity's] philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not other than a 'sub-product,' on occasion even harmful of its development -- or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal...In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the Logos, from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.
Pope Benedict XVI

Benedict thus endorses creative reason, manifested in the crucified God as love, which contrasts with the strict rationality of the Enlightenment.


Pope Benedict has currently written one encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ( Latin for "God is Love"). The encyclical reflects on the concepts of eros (possessive, often sexual, love), agape (unconditional, self-sacrificing love), logos (the word), and their relationship with the teachings of Jesus.

The encyclical contains almost 16,000 words in 42 paragraphs. The first half is said to have been written by Benedict in German, his mother tongue, in the summer of 2005; the second half is derived from uncompleted writings left by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The document was signed by Pope Benedict on Christmas Day, 25 December 2005. The encyclical was promulgated a month later in Latin and was translated into English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. It is the first encyclical to be published since the Vatican decided to assert copyright in the official writings of the Pope.

Dialogue with other religious traditions


Speaking at his weekly audience in St Peter's Square on 7 June, 2006, Pope Benedict asserted that Jesus himself had entrusted the leadership of the Church to his apostle Peter. "Peter's responsibility thus consists of guaranteeing the communion with Christ," said Pope Benedict. "Let us pray so that the primacy of Peter, entrusted to poor human beings, may always be exercised in this original sense desired by the Lord, so that it will be increasingly recognised in its true meaning by brothers who are still not in communion with us." The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has a leading role among Christians because as bishop of Rome he is successor to the apostle Peter who first held the office. The role of the Roman Catholic papacy remains a source of controversy, not only for Protestant denominations but also for Eastern Orthodox churches and members of the Restorationism movement, which does not accept the dogmas of the First Vatican Council.

The bishops of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople have expressed concern over Pope Benedict XVI's decision to drop "patriarch of the West" from his official titles in the Vatican yearbook. In a June 8, 2006 statement, the chief secretary of the Orthodox bishops' synod said dropping "patriarch of the West" while retaining the titles "vicar of Jesus Christ" and "supreme pontiff of the universal church" is "perceived as implying a universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome over the entire church, which is something the Orthodox have never accepted." The statement was issued after synod members discussed the change during their early June meeting. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in a March statement that dropping the title of patriarch in reference to the pope does not minimize the importance of the patriarchal office, particularly in relation to the ancient Eastern churches. "Even less can this suppression be seen as implying new claims" of power or authority on the part of the Vatican, he said. However, members of the Orthodox synod disagreed. From their point of view, "the geographical limits of each ecclesiastical jurisdiction" have been a key part of the structure of the church from the earliest days of Christianity. The church as a whole is "a unity of full local churches" and not a monolith divided into local units simply for the sake of easier governance. The Orthodox synod's statement said that, with the international Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue set to begin again in September with plans to deal with the "thorny problem" of papal primacy, it would have been better not to have dropped the title without consultation.

A leading Ukrainian Orthodox spokesman has said that a visit to Ukraine by Pope Benedict XVI would be "untimely," according to the country's RISU news service. "If Pope Benedict is a moral and a spiritual person and wants only good for Ukraine and its people, he will never take such an unreasonable step," said Valentyn Lukianyk, the head of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine. He was responding to the news that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has invited the Pope to visit the country. There have been numerous clashes between Orthodox and Catholic believers over the ownership of parish properties that were confiscated by the Communists and handed over to Orthodox clerics. At the same time, Orthodox leaders have complained that Catholics are engaged in "proselytism," seeking converts among Orthodox believers. In his statement opposing a papal visit, Lukianyk said that relations between Catholics and Orthodox in Ukraine are now "warming." A visit by Pope Benedict, he said, would place an undue burden on those sensitive ties.

On March 19, 2006, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received a special invitation — to attend the elevation of Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley to cardinal at the Vatican. The trip to Rome is further evidence of a growing relationship between Romney and the local leadership of the Roman Catholic Church."This is extraordinary and particularly for someone of my faith," said Romney, a Mormon, before he spoke at a St. Patrick's Day breakfast in New Hampshire. "I don't know that there's ever been a Mormon guy that's been to the Vatican for a Mass held by the pope, so it's a personal honour."



The World Jewish Congress "welcomed" his election to the pontificate, noted "his great sensitivity to the Jewish history and the Holocaust," and quoted the Pope in its press release:

Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah (Holocaust) was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

The Dalai Lama also congratulated Pope Benedict XVI upon his election.

Apostolic journeys

World Youth Day in Cologne
World Youth Day in Cologne
  • Italy ( May 29, 2005): Pope Benedict visited the Italian port of Bari and pledged to make the reconciliation with the Eastern Orthodox Church a "fundamental" commitment of his papacy. Benedict made the pledge in a city closely tied to the Orthodox Church. Bari, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, is considered a "bridge" between East and West and is home to the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra, a fourth century saint and the prototype of "Santa Claus," who is one of the most popular saints in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Pope referred to Bari as a "land of meeting and dialog" with the Orthodox Church in his homily at a Mass that closed a national religious conference. It was his first pilgrimage outside Rome since being elected Pope on April 19. He visited Verona in October of 2006 for a meeting of the Italian Church.
  • Germany ( August 18 to August 21, 2005): The Pope arrived in Germany on August 18 in order to participate in the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne. There he met with President Horst Köhler, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Leader of the Opposition Angela Merkel and others, and visited the famous Cologne Cathedral. The Pope visited the synagogue of the Jewish community in Cologne, which is the oldest Jewish community in the world north of the Alps. Benedict and his immediate predecessor John Paul II are the only two popes since St. Peter known to have visited a synagogue. He also spoke with representatives of the Muslim and Protestant communities of Cologne. On August 21, he led a Mass at Marienfeld.
Benedict XVI on his arrival in Poland
Benedict XVI on his arrival in Poland
  • Poland ( May 25 to May 28, 2006): The Pope began his visit just after 11 a.m. on May 25, landing at the Okęcie Military Airport in Warsaw. Throughout his visit, he often spoke a few sentences of Polish, which he had learned phonetically. After a welcoming ceremony, Benedict drove in his pope-mobile to Warsaw cathedral, where he met and addressed a thousand clergymen. He also paid an official visit to the Presidential Palace and later that day attended a meeting of leaders of various religions. The Pope celebrated an open-air Mass on Piłsudski Square in Warsaw on May 26, visited the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa and arrived in Kraków. On May 27 the pontiff went to Wadowice, the birthplace of his predecessor, the sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Łagiewniki and the Wawel Cathedral and addressed young people gathered at Błonia park in Kraków. On the last day of his visit on Sunday May 27, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at Błonia for about 900,000 pilgrims, and later that day briefly prayed at the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  • Spain ( July 8 to July 9, 2006): Pope Benedict visited Spain at the request of King Juan Carlos and the country's Catholic bishops, in particular Valencia, for the Fifth World Meeting of Families. The closing mass was held at the City of Arts and Sciences in the city. The Archbishop of Valencia, Agustin Garcia-Gasco also presided in the service and made a major address to the Pope and the gathering crowds.
  • Germany: The Pope visited Munich, Altötting, Marktl am Inn and Regensburg, all in his home state Bavaria, September 9- September 14, 2006. After his arrival Benedict XVI was welcomed at Munich Airport by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Horst Köhler. In his famous Popemobile he was driven through the city of Munich where he was the Archbishop from 1977 to 1982. He said a prayer on Marienplatz, the same ritual which he did before he was called to Rome by Pope John Paul II. More than half a million people joined the outdoor masses which were held in Munich and Regensburg. The Pope visited Marktl am Inn were he was born and baptized. He also spent one day with his brother Prelate Georg Ratzinger, they visited their parents' grave and stayed the rest of the day in Benedict's former resindence, a house which is still owned by the pope in a suburb of Regensburg.
  • Turkey ( November 28, 2006 - ongoing): The Pope arrived at Ankara, where he was received by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.


The official title of the Pope is His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, In Latin- Benedictus XVI, Episcopus Romae. However his full title is "His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God." This full title is however rarely used. The last title, Servant of the Servants of God, was added by Pope Paul VI in 1969, who also dropped the phrase "gloriously reigning". Starting from 1870, " Patriarch of the West" was also one of the pope's formal titles, but on 1 March 2006 the Vatican announced that it would no longer be used.

The title "Patriarch of the West", which traditionally appeared in that list of titles before "Primate of Italy," has rarely been employed since the East-West Schism of 1054. The title of "Patriarch of the West" was first adopted in the year 642 by Pope Theodore I. From the Orthodox perspective, authority in the Church could be traced to the five original patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. However, some Catholic theologians have argued that the term "Patriarch of the West" has no clear historical or theological basis and was introduced into papal court in 1870, at the time of the First Vatican Council. Pope Benedict chose to remove the title at a time when discussions with the Orthodox churches have centered on the issue of papal primacy. It has also been suggested that "the West" is a misnomer as the modern Latin Church is today global in its extent. Pope John Paul II reportedly considered dropping the title during his own pontificate.

(Note on numbering: Pope Benedict X is now considered an anti-pope. At the time, however, this fact was not recognized and so the tenth true Pope Benedict took the official number XI. This caused the true fifteenth Pope Benedict to take the number XVI. This has advanced the numbering of all subsequent Popes Benedict by one. Popes Benedict XI-XVI are really the tenth through fifteenth popes by that name.)

Political positions

In an interview in 2004 for Le Figaro magazine, Ratzinger said that Turkey, a country Muslim by heritage and population, but staunchly secularist by its state constitution, should seek its future in an association of Islamic nations rather than the European Union, which has Christian roots. He said Turkey had always been "in permanent contrast to Europe" and that linking it to Europe would be a mistake.

It was widely reported in April 2006 that the Vatican had launched a commission to investigate and prepare a document regarding the question of whether there are any cases when a married person may use condoms to protect against infection from their spouse. Though no conclusions have yet been reached, the investigation has surprised many Catholics in the wake of John Paul II's consistent refusal to consider condom use in response to AIDS and the widespread belief that his successor shared this view. In November 2005 the Pope had listed several ways to combat the spread of HIV, including chastity, fidelity in marriage and anti-poverty efforts with no mention of condoms. However, Time Magazine reported in its April 30, 2006 edition that the Vatican's position remains what it always has been with Vatican officials "flatly dismiss[ing] reports that the Vatican is about to release a document that will condone any condom use."

In May 2006, Pope Benedict rebuked Australia for the "painful" social plight of Aborigines, and urged the Australian people to seek their forgiveness. He told the new Australian ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Plunkett, that Australians needed to match their reputation as international peace-brokers with a determination for justice on their own soil, saying, "In regard to the Aboriginal people of your land, there is still much to be achieved". Benedict XVI - who intends to visit Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008 - said lasting reconciliation could be achieved through the "healing process" of forgiveness.

Pope Benedict has also promoted various UN events, such as World Refugee Day, on which he offered up special prayers for refugees and called for the international community to do more to secure refugees' human rights. He also called on Catholic communities and organizations to offer them concrete help.

On June 19, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians to reject those who “falsify the Word of Christ,” which was seen as an allusion to the controversy over the novel Da Vinci Code. Addressing a huge open-air mass in central Warsaw on the second day of his visit to Poland, the pontiff used his homily to warn against the temptation of doctoring what he said were Biblical truths. He stated: “As in past centuries, so today there are people or groups who seek to falsify the Word of Christ and to remove from the Gospel those truths which in their view are too uncomfortable for modern man." In US author Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, Jesus is said to have fathered a daughter with Mary Magdalene whose bloodline continues to this day.

On June 28, 2006, for the first time in more than five years, an official Vatican delegation visited China and met with government officials, signaling a warming between the two nations that had previously been locked in conflict. "This is a real gesture by the Vatican and its diplomats," said the Reverend Bernardo Cervellera, director of AsiaNews, a Catholic missionary news service with close links to the Vatican. In sending diplomats to Beijing, the Vatican, under Pope Benedict XVI, is publicly expressing interest in improving relations with China despite the recent conflicts.

In August, 2006, the pope granted an exclusive interview with the German TV station ZDF. It was aired on August 13, 2006. In this interview, he revealed a surprising and unexpected perspective in his thoughts, making amicable remarks about the Protestant churches, emphasizing the role of women in church, and said that "church is not an accumulation of prohibitions, but a positive option" ("der Katholizismus ist nicht eine Ansammlung von Verboten, sondern eine positive Option"). He also stressed several times that the church was a way to guide people, particularly in questions of AIDS and overpopulation, and therefore strong morals should be proclaimed. As a side note, he also stressed that humour is a good way to cope with stress, even for popes.

Shortly afterwards, Pope Benedict XVI also warned about the dangers of excessive work. He quoted St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who said, "See where these accursed occupations can lead you, if you continue to lose yourself in them." The Pope himself said: "Numerous occupations often lead to 'hardness of heart.' They are no more than suffering for the spirit, loss of intelligence and dispersion of grace."

On November 13, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI said Monday the North Korean nuclear dispute should be resolved through negotiations, in his first public comment on the security issue, a news report said. “The Holy See encourages bilateral or multilateral negotiations, convinced that the solution must be sought through peaceful means and in respect for agreements taken by all sides to obtain the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." Benedict said in a speech to the new Japanese ambassador to Vatican.

In a message released November 14, 2006, during a Vatican press conference for the 2007 annual observance of World Day for Migrants and Refugees, the pope urged the ratification of international conventions and policies that defend all migrants, including refugees, exiles, evacuees and internally displaced people. “The church encourages the ratification of the international legal instruments that aim to defend the rights of migrants, refugees and their families,” the pope said. “Much is already being done for the integration of the families of immigrants, although much still remains to be done.”

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