Pope Benedict XVI (1927-2022) is dead. “It is with great pain that I have to announce that Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, died at 09:34 today in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican,” the Vatican press office announced on December 31, 2022.

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927 as the third of three children of a policeman and a cook in Marktl am Inn on Holy Saturday. At the time, nobody could have guessed that he would one day move from the small community in the Upper Bavarian district of Altötting to the top of the Roman Catholic Church. And yet he went straight on his way.

Even as a child, Ratzinger was an altar boy. His youth was marked by moves – due to his father’s job and the war years. In 1939 his parents sent him to the archiepiscopal seminary of St. Michael in Traunstein. At the state-run Chiemgau high school, he was said to have been fascinated by the humanities subjects even back then. Due to the war he switched to the Maximiliansgymnasium in Munich. During this time he is said to have named the priesthood as a career goal for the first time. In December 1944 he was drafted into the Wehrmacht. He was briefly taken prisoner by the Americans, from which he was released in June 1945. He finally graduated from high school in Traunstein.

From 1946 to 1951 Joseph Ratzinger studied Catholic theology and philosophy at the Philosophical-Theological University of Freising and at the University of Munich. In 1951 he was ordained a priest together with his brother Georg Ratzinger (1924-2020). He then worked as a chaplain in Munich. In 1953 he received his doctorate in theology, which was followed by a steep academic career: At the age of just 31, Ratzinger took up a professorship in dogmatics and fundamental theology at his alma mater in Freising. In 1959 he moved to the university in Bonn, in 1963 he moved to the University of Münster and in 1966 to Tübingen.

In 1976 Joseph Ratzinger became Vice President at the University of Regensburg and “Honorary Pontifical Prelate”. From 1970 he lived in his own house in Pentling near Regensburg with his brother Georg and his sister Maria (1921-1991), before Pope Paul VI. (1897-1978) appointed him archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 and a little later also made him cardinal. Ratzinger was still registered as Pope at the Pentlinger address.

As Pope Paul VI. Died in 1978, Ratzinger took part in the conclave that elected the next head of the Church: Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981. At the same time he received Vatican citizenship.

Cardinal Ratzinger actually wanted to resign at the age of 75, but Pope John Paul II refused with the words: “You don’t even have to write this letter because I want to have you to the end.” A few days after his death on April 2, 2005, the conclave began on April 18. One day and four ballots later, white smoke finally rose, the successor had been found: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.

Not everyone was happy about this choice, especially in Germany. The “Bild” newspaper headlined at the time with the quip “We are Pope”. But Ratzinger, who even as a cardinal was more papal than the pope, was considered strict and arch-conservative and was called “God’s Rottweiler” or “Panzercardinal” in Rome. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he advocated priestly celibacy and opposed the legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

Only recently did an abuse report by the Catholic Church on cases between 1945 and 2019 cause the Pope Emeritus to get into trouble: his controversial handling of abusers in the Church and their victims during his time as archbishop put him under massive pressure.

Serious criticism of his arch-conservative views never died down during the pontificate, even though he was celebrated like a pop star at church conventions. Which was perhaps also due to his constant companion, the devoted private secretary Georg Gänswein (66), who was also called the “George Clooney of the Vatican” because of his good looks. And then one was proud that after 482 years a German was again sitting on the throne of Peter.

In February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI. announced his resignation for reasons of age at the age of 85. The conclave to choose his successor began on March 12. Pope Francis (86), who is ten years his junior, has been in office since March 13, 2013. The last time there were two popes among the living was in the 15th century.

According to his private secretary Gänswein, “Father Benedict” had recently been physically weak, but had a clear, sharp mind. He took regular walks in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican Gardens, where he lived in seclusion. There he devoted himself to prayer and meditation, as he himself said. Public appearances were rare. He took part in the beatification of his predecessors in 2014. A year later he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Kraków.

Joseph Ratzinger died a few days after his successor Francis announced that his predecessor was “very ill”. Francis had asked the faithful to pray for the pope emeritus, who “silently” supports the Church, so that God would comfort him “to the end”.