Happy Birthday

pope benedict, Joseph Ratzinger
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Happy Birthday, Pope Benedict XVI

April 16, 2010
by Anne Szustek
In 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was chosen to succeed Pope John Paul II, becoming the first German in 480 years to be named pope. Although his tenure has been somewhat clouded by controversy, Pope Benedict’s unwavering dedication to the Catholic faith is unquestionable.

Joseph Ratzinger’s Early Days

The man who would become the 265th pope was born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Germany. He spent much of his childhood in the town of Traunstein. By the time Ratzinger was a teenager, Germany had come under the control of the Nazis and as per the law at the time, he joined the Hitler Youth in 1941. Two years later, he was drafted for infantry training and sent to Hungary.

Ratzinger abandoned his post in 1944, after which he was held prisoner in an Allied POW camp. When he was released in June 1945, he went on to study philosophy and theology at the University of Munich and was ordained as a priest in 1951.

Benedict’s Notable Accomplishments

In 1952, Ratzinger began teaching at Germany’s Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising. A year later, he earned his doctorate in theology with his dissertation on St. Bonaventure. He continued teaching until 1969, teaching at four different schools and serving as vice president of the University of Regensburg. From 1962 to 1965, Ratzinger also served three years as the Second Vatican Council’s Chief Theological Expert.

In 1972, Ratzinger co-founded Communio a theological journal now published in numerous languages. Ratzinger was named Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977. In June of the same year, he was named Cardinal by Pope John Paul II. In 1993, he became Cardinal-Bishop of Velletri-Segni and was elected Dean for the College of Cardinals, the group that votes on new popes, in 2002.

But while Ratzinger was quickly rising through the ranks of the Catholic Church, he was building something in addition to theological renown: a reputation for controversy. In 2000, according to Forbes magazine, “Ratzinger offended Protestants and other Christian denominations in a famous document titled Dominus Iesus, in which he stated that they were ‘not proper churches.’”

After Pope John Paul II’s death on April 2, 2005, the College of Cardinals voted in Joseph Ratzinger as his successor and on April 24 that year, he became the 265th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church under the regnal name Pope Benedict XVI.

The Rest of the Story

The first few years of the papacy of Benedict XVI have been characterized by debate over his theological conservatism and his relations with other religions. “Benedict has dismissed anyone who tried to find ‘feminist’ meanings in the Bible,” writes The Christian Science Monitor, and in 2005 “told American bishops it was appropriate to deny Communion to those who support abortion and euthanasia.” Along similar lines, he spars with what the Monitor terms “mainstream European thinking” about homosexuality, birth control and the role of women in society.

Benedict also set off a controversy in September 2006 with remarks about Muslim violence. In describing a conversion between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Persian man, Benedict said, “He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’”

In a move that angered Jewish groups, on Jan. 24, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would reinstate four excommunicated bishops into the Catholic Church. One of them, Bishop Richard Williamson, has denied that gas chambers were used to execute Jews during World War II. The pope has responded to criticism by saying he has “full and indisputable solidarity” with the Jews, and has stressed that he understands how serious an offense it is to deny the Holocaust.

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