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Joseph Ratzinger of Germany

The Guardian of Orthodoxy

Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page A40


If strict continuity with John Paul II's thinking is a concern among those selecting the next pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will be a leading candidate. He lined up with the late pontiff on key issues that dominated the last years of John Paul's reign and for more than a year had been the most prominent voice on pressing and controversial issues.

He wrote a letter of advice to U.S. bishops on denying communion to politicians who support abortion rights, which some observers viewed as a slam at Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry. He publicly cautioned Europe against admitting Turkey to the European Union and wrote a letter to bishops around the world justifying that stand on the grounds that the continent is essentially Christian in nature. In another letter to bishops worldwide, he decried a sort of feminism that makes women "adversaries" of men.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Franco Origlia - Getty Images)

These and other high-profile pronouncements gave Ratzinger the aura of a vice pope in the eyes of some observers, and he was almost always mentioned in the frequent Who-Really-Runs-the-Vatican lists that flourished during the last months and years.

Ratzinger was born in the German town of Marktl am Inn in 1927. Shortly before the end of World War II, he was drafted into an antiaircraft unit, and after the German surrender spent time in a prisoner of war camp. He was ordained in 1951, took part in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and became a cardinal in 1977.

In 1981, John Paul II appointed Ratzinger to his current post as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's guardian of orthodoxy. The pontiff has on occasion referred to Ratzinger as his "trustworthy friend."

Until last year, Ratzinger's age seemed to be a hindrance to a serious candidacy. Now 77, he is two years older than the retirement age for bishops, yet the pope asked him to stay on, with no age limit. With some Vatican officials discussing an essentially transitional pope to follow John Paul -- a successor whose tenure would be relatively short -- Ratzinger suddenly became an oft-mentioned candidate.

He is a lightning rod for church liberals who see the hierarchy as reactionary. Ratzinger was active in stamping out liberation theology, with its emphasis on grass-roots activism to fight poverty and its association with Marxist movements.

He once called homosexuality a tendency toward "intrinsic moral evil" and dismissed the uproar over priestly pedophilia in the United States as a "planned campaign" against the church.

-- Daniel Williams

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