Pope Benedict XVI’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, is due to publish a memoir reflecting on his relationship of eight decades with the current successor of St. Peter.
My Brother, the Pope, published by the Pope’s official English-language publisher, Ignatius Press, will be released worldwide on March 1. It features Msgr. Ratzinger’s recollections of life with his brother Joseph, recorded for posterity in a collaboration with the journalist and historian Michael Hesemann. (See Register review here.)
Msgr. Ratzinger and his younger brother were born in 1924 and 1927, respectively. The Pope has described his older brother as a formative influence, saying in August 2008 that “from the beginning of my life, my brother has always been for me not only a companion, but a trustworthy guide.”
“For me, he has been a point of orientation and of reference with the clarity and determination of his decisions,” the Pope said on that occasion, while granting his brother honorary citizenship for the papal residence Castel Gandolfo. “He has always shown me the path to take, even in difficult situations.”
The two brothers were ordained as priests on the same day in 1951. Georg Ratzinger combined his priestly calling with his musical talents and spent three decades directing the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen boys’ choir.
Joseph Ratzinger, meanwhile, pursued a career as a professor and theologian. This path would take him to the head of the Church’s highest doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he led as cardinal prefect prior to his 2005 election as Pope.
In an exclusive advance excerpt provided to CNA, Msgr. Ratzinger recalls how the future Pope lived during his time as a young assistant pastor.
“He actually felt very much at ease in pastoral work,” he writes in Chapter 7. “Above all, religious instruction suited him; he had the gift of presenting even the most difficult subjects so that they could be understood by the simpler children and yet still interested the more demanding students.
“It gave him great joy. Even though during his first year he already had to take on nineteen sessions a week, he always went gladly into the schools as a religion teacher.
“Every morning he sat for an hour in the confessional, on Saturdays for four hours. Several times a week he rode his bicycle across Munich to funerals, and he celebrated baptisms and weddings. In addition, he was in charge of the youth program in the parish.”
It was difficult, Msgr. Ratzinger says, for his brother to give up this assignment and devote himself to academic work as a seminary professor in Freising.
But this academic career “did not change him at all as a person. … I would have noticed it immediately if he had become different in some way.”
“Our parents thought at first that once he was a professor he would be a bit pompous and talk down to people, but he was never like that; he always remained natural,” the Pope’s brother writes.
In the same excerpt, Msgr. Ratzinger offers a classic picture of Bavarian Catholic life at mid-century, reminiscing about the day in 1953 when his brother received his doctorate in theology.
“At that time I was an assistant pastor at Saint Ludwig’s in Munich … and of course I was present when the whole process was concluded with a celebration.
“The university employees, in uniform and each holding a staff, led off, and the rector and the deans were all wearing their robes. The young doctor had to give a lecture and defend his thesis, which he had composed in Latin, and all this took place in the auditorium of the university.
“Our parents and our sister had come, too, and were rather impressed by the festive occasion. Afterward, being a young assistant pastor, I invited them to my lodgings in the rectory, and there was bratwurst and rolls and beer, and it all tasted wonderful to us.”