Msgr. Georg Ratzinger Dies at 96

Benedict XVI’s elder brother, who had been seriously ill, passed away a week after the Pope Emeritus visited him in Regensburg.

Msgr. Georg Ratzinger with Benedict XVI.
Msgr. Georg Ratzinger with Benedict XVI. (photo: Vatican Media)

The brother of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, died on Wednesday at the age of 96, the diocese of Regensburg has confirmed. 

Benedict XVI visited his brother in Regensburg last month after hearing he was seriously ill, and stayed in the diocese for four days during which the two brothers celebrated Mass together on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Both Joseph and Georg Ratzinger were ordained on the same day on 29 June 1951 by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Munich. 

Msgr. Georg Ratzinger was an accomplished musician who directed the Regensburger Domspatzen choir from 1964 until 1994. 

“Dear cathedral choir director, you were a priestly brother and counselor to me,” Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg said in a statement. “Your music was a school of prayer, of teaching the faith and of preaching.

“Countless Eucharistic celebrations in Regensburg cathedral and other churches owe the beauty, warmth and majesty of their direction to you. You could turn concert halls into prayer houses.”

"For this very special priestly ministry, I thank you with deep affection,” Bishop Voderholzer continued, “also in the name of the many whose hearts and minds you have filled.”

Msgr. Georg Ratzinger was born in Pleiskirchen near Altötting in 1924. After ordination In 1951 as a priest of the archdiocese of Munich and Freising, he studied church music at the Munich University of Music. 

He first served as choir director in Traunstein before being appointed director of Regensburg Cathedral choir — the Domspatzen— in 1964. He led more than 1,000 choir concerts around the world and raised the reputation of the boys’ choir. He was also a composer and among his works was a Mass for the Jubilee Year 2000. 

Abuse cases overshadowed his work: according to an investigation commissioned by the diocese of Regensburg, at least 231 cases of abuse were recorded between 1953 and 1992, and at least 62 cases of sexual violence. In 2017, a report by an independent special investigator found that Msgr. Ratzinger bore no primary responsibility for the abuse, but that he did not intervene enough. 

The current cathedral choir master, Roland Büchner, said Msgr. Ratzinger was “an outstanding musician who could be impulsive, indeed fanatic” about his “ideas of musical quality.” But he could also be “the gentlest person in the world.”

Pope Benedict said of his brother in an interview: “Since the beginning of my life, my brother has not only been a companion for me, but also a reliable guide. With his clarity and decisiveness, he was always a point of reference for me. He always showed me which way I had to take, even in difficult situations.” 

He said Msgr. Georg always helped him “with his seriousness, his modesty and his courage to take any burden.”