A new pope, even more conservative than the late John Paul II, has been elected to reign over the Roman Catholic Church, with its 1.1 billion members. Who is this new religious leader—and what can the world expect from him?
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News that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had become the newly-elected head of the Catholic Church brought a decidedly mixed reaction from the world.
Most experts believed that the cardinal did not have enough votes to become the next pontiff. They concluded that his decades-long battle against liberalism in the church and his uncompromising stance on sensitive, hot-button issues had polarized the world of Catholicism.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s election sent a message to both Catholic hardliners and liberal leaders. The former were pleased with his election, taking it as a signal that church dogma would be firmly upheld. The latter viewed it as a sign that the status quo would be maintained—that the Vatican would not budge from its stance on abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, the ordination of women into the priesthood and other controversial matters.
According to the Scotsman, a Vatican source said, “Cardinal Ratzinger doesn’t want a pope as right wing as Pope John Paul II. He wants a Pope more right wing than Pope John Paul II. There were a lot of things which the Pope chose to do against the wishes of Cardinal Ratzinger.” Most experts agree that the cardinal has been—and, as Pope Benedict XVI, will be—more strongly opposed to liberal teachings than his predecessor.
The Associated Press reported that, just days before being elected, Cardinal Ratzinger’s native Germany was divided in its opinion of him becoming the next pope: “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.”
Catholic leadership in Germany is largely liberal and had played a highly influential role in establishing Vatican II in the 1960s. Though the 1978 election of Pope John Paul II initially drew broad support from Germany—1.5 million Germans turned out for John Paul’s masses—German relations toward the Vatican have since cooled.
It is interesting to note that while most Western newspapers were publishing glowing headlines of the pontiff’s election, the British press had a field day attacking him. Headlines such as “From Hitler Youth to PAPA RATZI”—“He was known as GOD’S ROTTWEILER – Now he is POPE BENEDICT XVI”—“‘God’s Rottweiler’ is the new Pope”—and “A Pope Who Believes It is Far Better to be Right Than Popular,” splashed the pages of newsprint.
He has been described in various ways by a variety of sources. But who is Pope Benedict XVI? What can the world expect from his rule? His admirers look forward to seeing great things, while his detractors expect the worst.
To get a deeper understanding of whom this new religious leader is and what he will likely do, we must look at what he has already done.
Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, a predominantly Catholic region in Germany, on April 16, 1927. This was the “Holy Saturday” before Easter. His parents were Joseph and Maria Ratzinger. Due to his father’s occupation as a rural policeman, the Ratzinger family often moved from town to town.
In 1939, as World War II intensified and Nazi-led Germany and imperialistic Japan went on the march, young Ratzinger entered seminary. Two years later, he was forced to join the Hitler Youth. At age 16, he was drafted into the military, where he worked in a German anti-aircraft unit that guarded a BMW plant outside Munich. He later helped build tank barriers on the Austrian-Hungarian border. As defeat for the Axis powers drew near, Joseph Ratzinger deserted the army, returning home to Traunstein—just as American troops had established military headquarters at his house. The teenaged German soldier was taken prisoner and placed into a POW camp. Upon his release a few months later, he re-entered the seminary, along with his older brother Georg.
Years later, in June 1951, both brothers were ordained as priests.
Two years later, Joseph Ratzinger received his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. He began teaching theology at the University of Bonn in the late 1950s. He also taught Catholicism at various German universities.
Some years later, in 1962, Mr. Ratzinger was appointed chief theological advisor for the Archbishop of Cologne and came to play a key role at the Second Vatican Council. It has been said that he was, at the time, considered a liberal thinker, but that his progressive positions changed in the wake of student radicalism in Germany in the late 1960s.
In March 1977, he was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising. He was elevated to cardinal three months later.
In 1981, Pope John Paul II named Cardinal Ratzinger the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. With its roots in the “Holy” Inquisition (see inset), this office was—and still is—the guardian of Catholic orthodoxy.
In 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected vice dean of the College of Cardinals and was elected dean four years later.
For years, he worked as a close ally to Pope John Paul II. Every Friday evening, the two religious leaders would meet alone to discuss problems within the Roman Catholic Church.
For more than two decades, Cardinal Ratzinger built a legacy of zealously upholding and preserving traditional church dogma. He has been called the “intellectual salvation of Roman Catholicism” in a time of confusion and compromise and “the Pope’s enforcer” for rigorously prosecuting ideas considered dangerous to conservative Catholic teaching. Critics have mockingly referred to him as “God’s Rottweiler” and the “Panzerkardinal” (meaning, the “tank cardinal”). He has frequently been accused of being a strict authoritarian who used his office to silence or intimidate dissidents, discipline and demote theologians who were not in step with the Vatican, block liberal movements and expand the borders of papal infallibility within the Catholic world.
Over the years, he repeatedly sparred with leaders of the Catholic Church’s liberal wing. In 1993, the Cardinal of Stuttguart wrote a pastoral letter that gave permission for divorced Catholics who had remarried to take communion. But Cardinal Ratzinger rejected the letter and blocked its distribution (Ibid.) And, to the alarm of church liberals, he excommunicated seven women in Austria.
Extensive interviews with leading Catholics—both friends and foes of Pope Benedict—as well as thousands of pages written by and about him, have revealed three things: “He sees his work as a defense of human freedom; he is convinced that he and John Paul are the rightful heirs of Vatican II; he believes time is on his side” (“The Vatican’s Enforcer,” The National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 1999).
Benedict XVI is said to be a man of simple routine. For most of his years at Rome, he has opted to walk alone to work each morning, wearing a simple ankle-length robe, his face blending into the throngs of other clerics. There are stories about tourists who have asked Cardinal Ratzinger for directions, unaware that the person with whom they were speaking occupied one of the most powerful offices in the Vatican, second only to Pope John Paul II.
Though not expected to be as charismatic or telegenic as his predecessor, Pope Benedict has been said to be a “charmer” in one-on-one situations. He is also said to possess a wry sense of humor and is a refreshingly blunt speaker. He has also been called a cosmopolitan and is fluent in at least four—some say as many as ten—languages.
Viewed as an intellectual, he has authored several books that address issues of Catholic faith and doctrine: The Ratzinger Report (1985); Salt of the Earth (1996); The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000); and God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald (2002).
In his book God and the World, then-Cardinal Ratzinger asserted that followers of religions outside the Catholic Church are in a “gravely deficient” situation. When asked if Jews should or must acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah, he replied, “We believe that,” also stating, “That does not mean that we should force Christ upon them. The fact remains, however that our Christian conviction is also the Messiah of Israel. Certainly it is in the hands of God how and when the unification of Jews and Christians into the people of God will take place” (“Ratzinger speaks out in new book, debate,” National Catholic Reporter, Oct. 6, 2000).
During the 2004 American presidential race, Cardinal Ratzinger sent an official letter to Catholic bishops in the U.S. In it, he asserted that public officials who were Catholic, and yet openly dissented from church doctrine on abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, same-sex unions, etc., should not be allowed to partake in Communion. With the democratic presidential challenger being a Catholic who supported legal abortion and other positions opposed by Catholic orthodoxy, many viewed this letter as an attempt by the Vatican to influence American politics.
Cardinal Ratzinger had also weighed in on Europe’s political affairs, speaking against Turkey receiving membership into the European Union. He called Turkey a secular Muslim nation that would dilute Europe’s professing Christian culture.
The cardinal had spoken out against the “dictatorship of relativism”—the philosophy that all religious beliefs are of equal value—which “does not recognize anything as absolute and leaves as the ultimate measure only the measure of each one and his desires” (“Cardinal Ratzinger Warns of ‘Dictatorship of Relativism,’” Global Catholic News).
Abortion, euthanasia, birth control, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, women in the priesthood, celibacy among priests, pedophile sex scandals, the dwindling size of the Catholic Church in Europe and the U.S.—these and other controversial issues await the attention of Pope Benedict XVI.
Additionally, the new pontiff faces a world in which both Muslims and Catholics claim to have more than one billion believers around the world. He must attend to growing problems among Catholics in Africa and Asia who are concerned with protecting their rights and safety in nations where Muslims are in the majority.
In Latin America, home to almost half of the world’s Catholic population, the church must compete with the growing Pentecostal and Evangelical movements that are drawing away its members. In Brazil, which is largely Catholic, less than 10 percent of registered Catholics regularly attend services.
Meanwhile, the church in the United States is still coming to grips with its clergy sex abuse scandals, which have produced an increase of mistrust toward the priesthood. The scandals have also cost the Roman church millions of dollars in legal settlements.
Known for taking defiant stances, Cardinal Ratzinger had this to say about the abuse scandals: “In the Church, priests also are sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower. In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than one percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information nor to the statistical objectivity of the facts. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the Church. It is a logical and well-founded conclusion” (Zenit News Agency).
Still another problem the Catholic leader must address is the lack of priests and nuns in the West, as well as congregations that are dwindling in membership.
Along with its American cousins, the Catholic leadership in Europe struggles to address birth control, abortion and same-sex marriage, as well as the growing tide of European secularism and shrinking congregations. Of its 1.1 billion Catholics, 25 percent reside in Europe.
Yet, despite all these mounting issues, Pope Benedict has said that his top priority is to reunify all professing Christians. This intent was foreshadowed in his 2000 homily Dominus Jesus (“Lord Jesus”), in which he defined Protestant churches as “ecclesial communities” that are not “churches in the proper sense.” In other words, they are not part of the body of Jesus, which Pope Benedict believes is the Roman Catholic Church. In order for professing Christians to receive salvation, they must be grafted back into his church.
During his first week as the Catholic Church’s leader, Benedict has repeatedly attempted to reach out to Orthodox Christians and Protestants, and to Jews and Muslims, stating that he would devote his reign to unity.
Certain Internet doomsayers are already assigning grave, apocalyptic signs to Pope Benedict, pointing to an obscure prophecy by St. Malachy, an Irish archbishop. Malachy’s Catholic contemporaries believed that he possessed the ability to predict the future.
While visiting Rome in 1139, Malachy supposedly received a vision. In it, he claimed to have seen all 112 future popes, up until the destruction of the Catholic Church and the Second Coming of Christ. Malachy then wrote brief descriptive words about each future pope. According to the bishop’s vision, Pope Benedict XVI is the next to last pontiff before Christ’s Return.
Malachy-followers point to Cardinal Ratzinger taking the name “Benedict.” According to Malachy’s prophecy, the next-to-last pope would be “the Glory of the Olive.” This, they claim, is tied to the Benedictine Order, known as the Olivetans; its symbol is the olive branch.
Can Malachy’s prophecy be true?
God’s inspired Word states this: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:20-21).
In Matthew 24, Christ warned that false prophets, along with false prophecies, would rise and deceive many. As the Rock of the Old Testament (I Cor. 10:1-4), He inspired King David to record that those who obey God will receive “good understanding” (Psa. 111:10). This includes the proper knowledge and understanding of true biblical prophecy.
Critics have widely dismissed the Malachy prophecy as being a hoax. Some suggest that it was possibly invented to influence the voting process of a Roman Catholic conclave in the 16th century.
Pope Benedict is not a member of the Benedictine Order. In fact, he largely chose to be named “Benedict” after the patron saint of Europe, St. Benedict, who defended Rome against pagan Germanic invaders.
In his homily declared the day before he was elected to head the Catholic Church, the cardinal said the following: “How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking…The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves—thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error. Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires” (emphasis ours).
Before becoming pope, Joseph Ratzinger headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Few today realize that this office was formerly known as the Holy Inquisition, a Catholic court system that has largely been forgotten since becoming far less active since the late 1600s.
Today, an “inquisition” is defined as an investigation that violates the privacy or rights of individuals and usually includes a harsh, rigorous interrogation.
The Holy Inquisition was, effectively, a church court that investigated and punished heretics. Instituted by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), it was the first to use coercions and physical punishment. Years later, it was perfected by Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241). His successor, Pope Innocent IV (1241-1254), officially sanctioned the use of torture to extract “confessions” from those suspected of heresy.
Heresy could be any opinion or doctrine that conflicted with the Roman Catholic Church. And anyone—both Catholics and non-Catholics—could be subjected to inquisition. Even if one was suspected of being involved in heresy, he could be subjected to torture, without knowing who had brought charges against him. Guilty verdicts were passed down by the church, but punishments were carried out by the civil authority, which was subject to the church. Additionally, all citizens of Catholic-dominated regions were required to inform against heretics. The Holy Inquisition was vigorously administered for more than five centuries.
The Spanish Inquisition, which was a church campaign to purge out the Jews and Moors in Spain, lasted until the mid-19th century. This inquisition has often been referred to as church-sanctioned genocide.
Though the Vatican has not instituted the Holy Inquisition in modern times with the same intensity, as it was centuries ago, it has never publicly apologized for its actions. Strangely, the laws that permit the church to resume a vigorous inquisition are in effect to this day.
This, along with other statements, reveals that Pope Benedict XVI sees himself as the spiritual defender against the “isms” of secular thought now prevalent in Europe. In his first official address to the general public, he stated: “The name Benedict evokes, moreover, the extraordinary figure of the great ‘patriarch of Western monasticism,’ St. Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe together with Saints Cyril and Methodius. The gradual expansion of the Benedictine Order founded by him has had an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity on the whole Continent. Because of this, St. Benedict is much venerated in Germany and, in particular, in Bavaria, my native land. He constitutes a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the inalienable Christian roots of its culture and its civilization.”
The new pope firmly believes that the greatest threat to professing Christianity is secularism in the West. And, he has stated that he would rather see the Catholic Church reduced to a remnant size than follow the winds of social trends.
Certain religious organizations, specializing in prophetic speculation, have been quick to paint the new pope as the “false prophet” of the book of Revelation and the prophesized “man of sin” of II Thessalonians 2—an end-time religious leader who will perform signs and wonders, deceiving the world into believing that he is God. Such “prophecy groups” take note that the pope’s parents were Joseph and Mary (Maria), like Jesus’ parents—a sure sign, they say, that he will be a counterfeit of Christ. They also take note that the pontiff is of German descent.
True biblical prophecies picture a future in which a German-led Europe will, in fact, rise to international preeminence (see Psalm 83). Other scriptures show that ten European nations or groups of nations will hand over the reigns of power to one man, whom the Bible calls “the beast.” This end-time European leader will be endorsed by a figure called the “man of sin.”
Notice: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [Christ’s Return – vs. 1] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember you not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know what withholds that he might be revealed in his time…And then shall that Wicked [one] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thes. 2:3-12).
A startling television documentary, Does Europe Hate Us?, hosted by New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman, stated that Europe now has the economic muscle to financially overshadow the United States. However, it does not have the will to compete with the U.S. militarily—yet.
(Does the new pontiff fit the role of the “man of sin” and “the false prophet”? The Real Truth magazine is not a publication that resorts to wild speculation or prophetic innuendo. Its chief purpose is to analyze world news and societal trends affecting humanity-at-large—from a sound, biblical perspective, and this includes basic prophecies that are coming alive in our time.)
Before becoming pope, Joseph Ratzinger produced a legacy of rigidly holding firm to strong Catholic dogma and tradition. He has refused to bend to the cries for liberal reforms and has not shied away from silencing and disciplining liberals who have dissented from conservative, traditional religious thought. There is every reason to believe that he will continue the same course of action as head of the Roman Catholic Church.