Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on April 16, 1927) is the current pope, whom Catholics believe is the Vicar of Christ and successor to Simon Peter. Pope Benedict XVI is the immediate successor to Pope John Paul II.
Benedict XVI was elected Pope at the age of 78. He is the oldest person to have been elected Pope since Pope Clement XII (1730–40). He had served longer as a cardinal than any Pope since Benedict XIII (1724–30). He is the ninth German Pope, the eighth having been the Dutch-German Pope Adrian VI (1522–23) from Utrecht. The last Pope named Benedict was Benedict XV, an Italian who reigned from 1914 to 1922, during World War I (1914–18).
Born in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany, Ratzinger had a distinguished career as a university theologian before being appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising by Pope Paul VI (1963–78). Shortly afterwards, he was made a cardinal in the consistory of June 27 1977. He was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1981 and was also assigned the honorific title of the cardinal bishop of Velletri-Segni on April 5 1993. In 1998, he was elected sub-dean of the College of Cardinals. And on November 30 2002, he was elected dean, taking, as is customary, the title of Cardinal bishop of the suburbicarian diocese of Ostia. He was the first Dean of the College elected Pope since Paul IV (1555–59) and the first cardinal bishop elected Pope since Pius VIII (1829–30).
Even before becoming Pope, Ratzinger was one of the most influential men in the Roman Curia, and was a close associate of John Paul II. As Dean of the College of Cardinals, he presided over the funeral of John Paul II and over the Mass immediately preceding the 2005 conclave in which he was elected. During the service, he called on the assembled cardinals to hold fast to the doctrine of the faith. He was the public face of the church in the sede vacante period, although, technically, he ranked below the Camerlengo in administrative authority during that time. Like his predecessor, Benedict XVI affirms traditional Catholic doctrine.
In addition to his native German, Benedict XVI fluently speaks Italian, French, English, Spanish and Latin and also has a knowledge of Portuguese. He can read Ancient Greek and biblical Hebrew. He has stated that his first foreign language is French. He is a member of a large number of academies, such as the French Académie des sciences morales et politiques. He plays the piano and has a preference for Mozart and Bach.
On 11 February 2013, the Vatican confirmed that Benedict XVI would resign the papacy on 28 February 2013, as a result of his advanced age, becoming the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. The move was considered unexpected. In modern times, all popes have stayed in office until death. Benedict is the first pope to have resigned without external pressure since Celestine V in 1294.
In a statement, Benedict cited his deteriorating strength and the physical and mental demands of the papacy; addressing his Cardinals in Latin, Benedict gave a brief statement announcing his resignation. He also declared that he would continue to serve the church "through a life dedicated to prayer".
According to a statement from the Vatican, the timing of the resignation was not caused by any specific illness but was to "avoid that exhausting rush of Easter engagements".
On the appointed day and hour, and after two weeks of ceremonial farewells, the Pope left office and the time of sede vacante was declared.
Paul Collins suggested that the elevation of the Pope's personal assistant, Georg Gänswein, to archbishop in early December 2012 (he was ordained as bishop on 6 January 2013) was an indication of the impending resignation of Benedict XVI.
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