As head of the Catholic Church Pope Benedict is the spiritual leader to more than one billion people around the globe. But today the 85 year old announced he will resign on February 28 because of his advanced age. Here are nine things you should know about the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
1. Benedict is the 265th pope and the first to resign in over 600 years.
2. Benedict XVI was elected pope at the age of 78. He is the fifth oldest person to have been elected pope (the other four were 79 at the time of their election).
3. Born Joseph Ratzinger, he was six years old when the Nazis came to power in his native land of Germany. Although his family was staunchly anti-Nazi, he briefly was forced—like all German teens—to join the Hitler Youth. In 1943, while still in seminary, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps as Luftwaffenhelfer (air force child soldier) though he deserted two years later without having fired a shot. In 1945, after his desertion, he was recognized as a German soldier by the Americans and sent to a prisoner of war camp near his hometown. He was released a few months later and returned to seminary.
4. After being ordained as a Catholic priest in 1951, Ratzinger became an academic theologian. He had a long career as an academic, serving as a professor of theology at several German universities, before being appointed a cardinal in 1977. Prior to the promotion Ratzinger had relatively little pastoral experience.
5. In 1976, he suggested that the Augsburg Confession, the primary confession of faith of the Lutheran Church and one of the most important documents of the Lutheran reformation, might possibly be recognized as a Catholic statement of faith. He later backed off this position because of differences between Catholics and Lutherans on the understanding of justification.
6. In 2001, Ratzinger convinced John Paul II to put Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the Vatican office that Ratzinger oversaw—in charge of all investigations and policies surrounding sexual abuse in order to combat such abuse more efficiently. According to John L. Allen, Jr.,
By all accounts, Ratzinger was punctilious about studying the files, making him one of the few churchmen anywhere in the world to have read the documentation on virtually every Catholic priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse. As a result, he acquired a familiarity with the contours of the problem that virtually no other figure in the Catholic church can claim.
Driven by that encounter with what he would later refer to as “filth” in the church, Ratzinger seems to have undergone something of a “conversion experience” throughout 2003-04. From that point forward, he and his staff seemed driven by a convert’s zeal to clean up the mess.
Of the 500-plus cases that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with prior to Benedict’s election to the papacy, the substantial majority were returned to the local bishop authorizing immediate action against the accused priest — no canonical trial, no lengthy process, just swift removal from ministry and, often, expulsion from the priesthood. In a more limited number of cases, the congregation asked for a canonical trial, and in a few cases the congregation ordered the priest reinstated.
7. During his time as a cardinal, Ratzinger’s liberal Catholic critics dubbed him “God’s Rottweiler” because of conservatives positions and actions such as his denunciation of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, his disciplining of Latin American liberation theologians, and his censure of Asian priests who viewed non-Christian religions as part of God’s plan for humanity.
8. Ratzinger is the author of 66 books. His first book was published in 1966 and his most recent in 2012.
9. Ratzinger didn’t really want to be pope. In 1997, at the age of 70, he asked Pope John Paul II for permission to become an archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives and a librarian in the Vatican Library, but the pope refused. At the time of his election to pope, 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.”