The Boy Who Became Pope

By Vallely, Paul | The Independent (London, England), April 2, 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Boy Who Became Pope


Vallely, Paul, The Independent (London, England)


The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have elected as Pope perhaps the most controversial, divisive and reactionary of all the plausible candidates. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger becomes Pope Benedict XVI, at 78 the oldest pope elected in the past 100 years after the swiftest conclave of modern times. It lasted just over 24 hours.

As head of the Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has been not only the Vatican's guardian of orthodoxy since 1981, but in recent years he has been, in effect, second-in- command to Pope John Paul II. In that role he has been associated with all of John Paul's most hardline policies.

Cardinal Ratzinger was born in Bavaria in 1927, a policeman's son. As a child he was a member of the Hitler Youth, though he was never a member of the Nazi Party. His studies for the priesthood were interrupted in the war when he was drafted into an anti- aircraft unit but eventually he deserted. He ended the war as a prisoner of the Americans.

From the outset he was marked out as an intellectual of extraordinary capacity, and he was a radical in his youth. One of his doctoral dissertations was rejected when his superiors accused him " ironically given the subject of his final sermon just before the conclave " of relativism. After a circuit of famous German theological faculties, in Bonn, Mnster, Tbingen and Regensburg, he became a theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council " the Church's great reforming movement in the 1960s. There he penned a famous line about the Holy Office, the body previously known as the Inquisition, asserting that its 'methods and behaviour do not conform to the modern era and are a source of scandal to the world'.

At that time, no one would have suspected that Joseph Ratzinger, the

Catholic Church as the 'mother' of other Christian denominations as opposed to a 'sister', the more common description in ecumenical circles. It was typical of his stance as an even more rigid outrider to the positions adopted by John Paul II.

Cardinal Ratzinger was born in Bavaria in 1927, the son of a policeman. As a child he was a member of the Hitler Youth, though he was never a member of the Nazi Party. His studies for the priesthood were interrupted during the war when he was drafted into an anti- aircraft unit but he eventually deserted. He ended the war as an American prisoner of war.

From the outset he was marked out as an intellectual of extraordinary capacity and was a radical in his youth. One of his doctoral dissertations was rejected when his superiors accused him " ironically given the subject of his final sermon just before the conclave " of relativism.

After a circuit of famous German theological faculties, in Bonn, Mnster, Tbingen and Regensburg, he became a theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council " the church's great reforming movement in the 1960s.

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