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Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict in the Vatican in 2016 ABACA
Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI dead at 95: From the Nazi Youth to the papacy

The German national became pontiff in 2005.

POPE BENEDICT XVI has died at the age of 95 following a long battle with ill health. 

The German national became pontiff in 2005 after the death of John Paul II. However, Benedict was always plagued by poor health and his aides often spoke of the effect his well-being was having on his papacy. 

Benedict had cited his declining physical and mental health back in 2013 in his decision to become the first pope since 1415 to give up the job as head of the worldwide Catholic church.

The German pope emeritus, whose real name is Joseph Ratzinger, had been living a quiet life in a former convent inside the Vatican.

Ratzinger was born on 16 April, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, in Bavaria. In 1941, he became a member of the Hitler Youth, as was compulsory for all 14-year-olds under the Nazis.

The future pope was ordained a priest in 1951 and was made a cardinal by 1977.

In 1981, Pope John Paul II asked him to head the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation – once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition – a post which gave him ultimate responsibility to investigate abuse cases.

He went on to serve as the Church’s chief doctrinal enforcer, earning the nickname “God’s Rottweiler” and a reputation as a generally conservative thinker on theological issues.

Benedict was 78 when he succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005 – and almost eight years later, became the first pope since 1415 to resign.


Benedict XVI’s tenure as Bishop of Rome was not without its controversies.

Last January, he admitted providing incorrect information to a German inquiry about his presence at a 1980 meeting discussing a paedophile priest, blaming an editing “oversight”.

“He is very sorry for this mistake and asks to be excused,” Benedict’s personal secretary Georg Ganswein said in a statement at the time.

But no decision was made at the meeting about reassigning the priest to pastoral duties, it said.

An independent report last week found that Benedict XVI failed to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in the 1980s.

The report by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine how abuse cases were dealt with between 1945 and 2019.

benedict-xvi-visits-parents-grave Benedict had long struggled with his health. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

In one case, a now notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy.

Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history and continued to re-offend for many years.

Unveiling the report, the lawyers said that “to our surprise”, Benedict had denied attending the meeting in 1980 at which the decision was made to admit Hullermann to the diocese, despite being quoted directly in the minutes of the meeting.

Writing recently, Benedict also blamed the Catholic clerical sex abuse scandals on the 1960s sexual revolution and a collapse in faith in the West.

The ex-pontiff said responsibility for the crises rocking the church globally from Australia to Europe lay with the fight for an “all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer admitted any norms”.

He asserted that paedophilia “reached such proportions” because of the “absence of God”.

“Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68 was that paedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate,”  Benedict wrote in a 6,000-word essay for Klerusblatt, a German monthly magazine for clergy.

Benedict, who was the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, said the direct consequence of the 1960s period of counterculture and sexual activism in Europe and America was the “collapse of the next generation of priests in those years and the very high number of laicisations” or priests leaving the Church.

He also fought to stem growing secularism in the West and staunchly defended traditional Catholic teaching on abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage.

He angered the Muslim world with a speech in 2006 in which he appeared to endorse the view that Islam is inherently violent, sparking deadly protests in several countries as well as attacks on Christians.

His papacy was also marred by a money-laundering scandal at the Vatican bank, which exposed infighting among Benedict’s closest allies.

The pontiff also appeared to have lost control of his household: in 2012, his butler Paolo Gabriele leaked secret papers to the media, an act of betrayal which profoundly saddened the then pontiff.

Benedict as pope “was not really a dogmatic man, but rather a man who was disconnected from the real world,” said Jeffrey Klaiber, a religion professor at Lima’s Universidad Catolica.

Additional reporting by AFP

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