Benedict XVI succeeded John Paul II as pope and leader of the Catholic Church on 19 April 2005. 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 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 Benedict XVI.
Ratzinger published Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 in 1997; he has also written many books on theological issues… During the U.S. election of 2004 Ratzinger 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 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.