The supreme leader of the Catholic Church, 2005-2013
Name at birth: Joseph Ratzinger
Pope Benedict XVI succeeded John Paul II as leader of the Catholic Church on 19 April 2005, and remained pope until his stunning resignation announcement in 2013. Born Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope was raised in Bavaria and entered seminary in 1939. His studies were interrupted in 1943 by forced service in Adolf Hitler's army, but he returned to seminary at the end of 1945. Ratzinger was ordained in 1951 and spent much of his career as a theology professor at universities in Germany. In 1977 he was named Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and a few months later was elevated to cardinal. He became the Vatican's Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, charged with "safeguarding" church doctrine during the reign of John Paul II. Ratzinger was known for sharing the Pope's strict adherence to traditional Catholic dogma. Ratzinger's stern and staunchly conservative approach earned him the whimsical nickname of "Panzerkardinal," a reference to the World War II battle tank. John Paul II died in April of 2005; Ratzinger presided at his funeral, and then was elected as the next pope on the second day of the traditional conclave of cardinals. Ratzinger took the papal name of Pope Benedict XVI. Eight years later, on 11 February 2013, he announced that he would resign as pope at the end of that month, saying he no longer had the strength of body and mind to "steer the boat of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel." He was 85 years old when he made the announcement. Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign since Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 to help settle a civil war in the church.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, he published Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 in 1997; he has also written many books on theological issues... During the U.S. election of 2004, the future pope caused a stir by writing a memo to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington suggesting that clergy deny communion to supporters of abortion rights. The memo was made public and was widely perceived as a veiled attack on Catholic candidate John Kerry... The most recent previous pope named Benedict was Benedict XV. He was born Giacomo della Chiesa in 1854, and served as pope from 1914-22, which included the years of World War I. The very first pope with the name, Benedict I, served from 575-79.
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