Benedict was born on Holy Saturday, 16 April 1927, in Marktl, a small village in Bavaria, Germany, close to the Austrian border. He was baptized the same day as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, taking the name of his father, Joseph Ratzinger Sr.
He was the third and youngest child in the family. His older brother Georg Ratzinger would also become a Catholic priest and go on to be conductor of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the cathedral choir of Regensburg.
Benedict’s older sister Maria Ratzinger would never marry and managed the then-Cardinal's household until her death in 1991.
Following an early encounter with the visiting Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, Michael von Faulhaber, young Benedict would express a desire to be a cardinal, a desire he would fulfil 45 years later.
Despite the family’s bitter opposition to the Nazism, Benedict would be drafted into the Hitler Youth following his 14thbirthday, as was required by law. He was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps as Luftwaffenhelfer just two years later.
He deserted back to his family’s home in Traunstein just prior to the end of World War II, just as American troops established a headquarters in the Ratzinger household. Because he was a German soldier, he was interned as a prisoner of war but was released at the end of the war.
Just a few months later, Benedict would enter Saint Michael Seminary in Traunstein with his brother Georg and was ordained by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber on 29 June 1951.
He began his vocation as a chaplain at the St. Martin Parish in Moosach, Munich and would become a professor at the University of Bonn in 1959.
He participated in the Second Vatican Council in 1962 to 1965, where he was viewed as a reformer. He was appointed to a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen.
While Benedict would deny it later in life, many theologians would suggest his reformist perspectives became more conservative from 1968. In 1969, he to the University of Regensburg and co-founded the theological journal Communio, a publication he would actively contribute to right up until his election as pope.
On 24 March 1977, Benedict was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising, taking Cooperatores Veritatis (Co-workers of the Truth) as his episcopal motto. A few months later, on 27 June, he was named Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino by Pope Paul VI.
Just over four years later, on 25 November 1981, he was named as the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He would resign as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in early 1982.
He gained promotion within the College of Cardinals, becoming Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993. He was made the college's vice-dean in 1998 and dean in 2002.
In 1997, Benedict asked Pope John Paul II for permission to leave the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith and to become an archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives and a librarian in the Vatican Library, but his assent was refused.
Following the death of Pope John Paul II on 2 April 2005, a papal conclave was convened to elect a new pope, overseen by Benedict in his role as dean. Benedict was elected the 265thpope at the age of 78, on 19 April 2005, beating out his eventual successor Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) in one of the fastest conclaves in history.
His papacy was marked with praise for his teaching but criticism for his role as a leader.
While he was acknowledged as a gentle and sincere man, and a world-class theologian, critics said his progress on the sex abuse scandals which plagued the Church were merely symbolic, rather than substantive despite laicising hundreds of priests and being the first pope ever to meet clergy abuse victims face to face.
On 11 February 2013, Benedict announced his resignation in a speech before the cardinals, citing his lack of strength of mind and body. He became the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, and the first to do so of his own initiative since Celestine V in 1294.
He would be succeeded by Pope Francis and retired to the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in Vatican City, taking on the title ‘Pope Emeritus’.
Benedict has led a contemplative life, only making occasional public appearances in the decade that followed his papacy.
He passed away on the morning of 31 December 2022 at the age of 95 at his home Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican.
At the time of his passing, he was the longest-living person to have held the office of pope, beating Pope Leo XIII who was 93 years, four months and three days at the time his death.