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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ratzinger's Record Divides Catholics

TRAUNSTEIN, Germany --Joseph Ratzinger alienated some Roman Catholics in Germany with his zeal enforcing church orthodoxy. But in the conservative Alpine foothills of Bavaria where he grew up, he remains a favorite son who many think will make a good pope.

Ratzinger, a rigorously conservative guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy who turned 78 on Saturday and was chosen the Catholic Church's 265th pontiff Tuesday, went into the Vatican conclave a leading candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II.

"Only someone who knows tradition is able to shape the future," said the Reverend Thomas Frauenlob, who heads the seminary in Traunstein where Ratzinger studied and regularly visits.

But opinion about him remains deeply divided in Germany, a sharp contrast to John Paul, who was revered in his native Poland. A recent poll for Der Spiegel news weekly said Germans opposed to Ratzinger becoming pope outnumbered supporters 36 percent to 29 percent, with 17 percent having no preference. The poll of 1,000 people, taken April 5-7, gave no margin of error.

Many blame Ratzinger for decrees from Rome barring Catholic priests from counseling pregnant teens on their options and blocking German Catholics from sharing communion with their Lutheran brethren at a joint gathering in 2003.

Ratzinger has clashed with prominent theologians at home, most notably the liberal Hans Kueng, who helped him get a teaching post at the University of Tuebingen in the 1960s. The cardinal later publicly criticized Kueng, whose license to teach theology was revoked by the Vatican in 1979. He has also sparred openly in articles with fellow German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a moderate who has urged less centralized church governance and was considered a dark horse papal candidate.

"He has hurt many people and far overstepped his boundaries in Germany," said Christian Wiesner, spokesman for the pro-reform Wir Sind Kirche, or We Are Church, movement.

Ratzinger himself, in his autobiography, sensed he was out of step with his fellow Germans as early as the 1960s, when he was an assistant at the Second Vatican Council in Rome. "I found the mood in the church and among theologians to be agitated," he wrote. "More and more there was the impression that nothing stood fast in the church, that everything was up for revision."

Ratzinger left Tuebingen during student protests in the late 1960s and moved to the more conservative University of Regensburg in his home state of Bavaria. Catholics and Protestants each account for about 34 percent of the German population, but Bavaria is one of the more heavily Catholic areas.

"What Wadowice was for John Paul, Bavaria is for Ratzinger," said Frauenlob, referring to John Paul's hometown in southern Poland. "He has very deep roots here; it's his home."

Ratzinger was born in Marktl Am Inn, but his father, a policeman, moved frequently, and the family left when he was 2. He and his older brother, Georg, return annually to the peaceful halls of St. Michael's Seminary to stay in the elegant but sparsely furnished bishop's apartment next to the church.

An accomplished pianist who loves Mozart, Ratzinger enjoys playing the grand piano in the seminary's main hall and walking through downtown Traunstein greeting people, Frauenlob said.

Traunstein was also where Ratzinger went through the harrowing years of Nazi rule and World War II. In 1943, he was drafted as an assistant to a Nazi anti-aircraft unit and sent to Munich. A year later he was released, only to be sent to the Austrian-Hungarian border to construct tank barriers.

He deserted the Germany army in May 1945 and returned to Traunstein -- a risky move, since deserters were shot on the spot if caught, or publicly hanged as examples to others. When he arrived home, U.S. soldiers took him prisoner and held him in a POW camp for several weeks. Upon his release, he re-entered the seminary.

Ratzinger was ordained, along with his brother, in 1951. He then spent several years teaching theology. In 1977, he was appointed bishop of Munich and elevated to cardinal three months later by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II named him leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981, where he was responsible for enforcing Catholic orthodoxy and was one of the key men in the drive to shore up the faith of the world's Roman Catholics.

Frauenlob calls him a subtle thinker with a deep understanding of Catholic tradition and a personal touch he is not often given credit for. He cites the example of the seminary's 2003 confirmation service where no bishop was available. Ratzinger swiftly agreed to come, confirming the 14 boys, then taking time to speak personally to each one after the ceremony.

"I find it hurtful to see him described as a hard-liner," Frauenlob said. "People are too quick to say that; it's not an accurate reflection of his personality."