Benedict XVI - The Eighth German Pope in History


Pope Benedict XVI has been the head of the Roman Catholic Church since his predecessor John Paul II died in 2005. His real name is Joseph Ratzinger and he is the eighth German to become pope. Benedict XVI is a well-educated man, speaks many languages and even plays the piano.

Joseph Ratzinger was born in a small town in Bavaria, Germany in 1927. His father was a policeman and his mother a cook. Ratzinger was six years old when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Although his parents were against the Nazi regime Ratzinger had to join the Hitler Youth and in 1943 became a soldier in the Wehrmacht.


After World War II he studied theology and became a priest in 1951. In the 50s and 60s he taught theology at German universities, including Münster and Regensburg. During this period Ratzinger wrote many interesting theological papers.

In 1977 Ratzinger became cardinal and Archbishop of Munich. When John Paul II became pope in 1978 he made Joseph Ratzinger one of his closest advisors. In the two decades that followed he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, an organization that was responsible for faith and morals in the Catholic world.


Pope Benedict XVI - Joseph Ratzinger

Pope Benedict XVI - Joseph Ratzinger - Fabio Pozzebom/ABr - Agência Brasil


At the age of 78 Ratzinger was elected pope by the conclave of cardinals, which got together after John Paul II had died. He chose the name Benedict, patron saint of Europe and founder of the Benedictine Order.

Before Ratzinger became pope he had the image of a conservative, a hard-liner who is against too much socialism. He was criticized for a lot of things he said in his first years. He described homosexuality, for example, as an evil that humans must get away from.

In Africa Benedict made offensive remarks about the use of condoms. He said that AIDS was not an illness that you could cure by money alone. The distribution of condoms among the people of Africa can only make things worse.


When he allowed Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the Holocaust, back into the church, the Vatican admitted they had made a big mistake and not checked the bishop’s background enough.

Benedict must cope with many problems that face the Roman Catholic Church. One big task is to strengthen Roman Catholic Church in Europe in a time when fewer and fewer people go to mass and an increasing number leave the church. On the other side the conservative pope calls for a return to more Latin in masses.

In his early years Benedict visited many countries, but not nearly as many as John Paul had visited before him. In Turkey, he hoped to improve the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 2008 he made his first visit to the USA where he spoke out openly against sexual abuse among priests.

One of his main aims is to improve relations with other religions, especially Islam and Judaism. In a controversial speech the pope quoted a 14th century emperor who said that the Prophet Muhammad had brought the world only evil. The Vatican quickly apologized to the Muslim world and said that the Pope did not want to hurt them. In 2009 he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he condemned the Holocaust and called for an end to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

In February 2013 Benedict XVI decided to step down from the papacy because of bad health.


Related Topics





  • admit = to say that something is true
  • advisor = helper
  • aim = things you want to do or reach
  • although = while
  • apologize = to say you are sorry
  • call for = want, demand
  • conclave = meeting of cardinals after a pope has died
  • congregation = people who are together in a church
  • controversial = something that leads to a lot of discussion
  • cope with = deal with
  • cure = heal, to make healthy
  • decade = ten years
  • deny = here: to say that something did not exist
  • distribution = give out
  • emperor = a person who rules a big country
  • evil = something bad
  • face = deal with a difficult situation
  • faith = religion
  • founder = a person who started something new
  • hard-liner = a person who is very conservative and deals with problems in an extreme way
  • head = leader
  • Hitler Youth = an organization founded by Adolf Hitler to train young boys and girls to accept and believe in the ideas of the Nazis
  • Holocaust = the mass murder of Jews in the Second World War
  • illness = disease
  • improve =to make better
  • including = among others
  • increase = if something goes up
  • Judaism = the Jewish religion
  • mass = Roman Catholic church ceremony, mostly held on Sundays
  • moral = what is good and what is bad
  • offensive = something that hurts you or makes you feel bad
  • order = religious group of monks or nuns
  • paper = piece of writing on a subject
  • pilgrimage = a journey to a holy place
  • predecessor = the man who was pope before him
  • quote = to repeat what someone had said earlier
  • regime = a government that most people do not want
  • remark = statement
  • responsible = in charge of
  • sexual abuse = to force a person, especially a child, to take part in sexual activities
  • socialism = here: Marxism, Communism
  • speak out against = to say things against
  • strengthen = to make stronger
  • task = job
  • Wehrmacht = German army in World War II