A Tale of 2 Ratzingers

Saturday Book Pick: Ignatius to publish English translation of Msgr. Georg Ratzinger's book on his more famous brother.

In the recently published German interview book My Brother, the Pope, with the writer Michael Hesemann, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger shares many deep and detailed memories of the family life of the Ratzingers. The nine chapters of the book supply a tour d’horizon of their lives, beginning with remembrances of their ancestors and ending with details about how the Pope and his only brother spend their time together nowadays, mostly in Rome.

Published last September in Germany, the book will be published in English this March by Ignatius Press.

Msgr. Ratzinger draws the picture of a typically Catholic Bavarian family of their time, underlining how important their environment and relatives were for their future as priests. He describes the various rites of popular piety for every feast, for example, providing, perhaps, inspiration for modern Catholics on how to celebrate the liturgical year.

Msgr. Ratzinger also addresses a claim of German Nobel Prize winner Günther Grass that he had met the future Pope in a POW camp. The young Josef Ratzinger, Grass said, in the 2006 interview, was “extremely Catholic” and “occasionally used Latin citations.”

“That’s perhaps a nice story, but it is not true,” Msgr. Ratzinger writes. Grass seems “to have probably fantasized something.” They may have been in the same camp, but “either at a different location or at a different time.” Josef Ratzinger, his brother writes, has an excellent memory and would remember such an encounter with Günther Grass.

Msgr. Ratzinger also underlines that it is of great importance for Pope Benedict XVI that the liturgy is celebrated in a dignified and correct way. He continues that there are too many priests who think that during Mass they should add something or let something go. The Pope wishes a “respectable, good liturgy which moves the human being inwardly and which can be understood as God’s call.”

During the time he was directing the Regensburger Domspatzen, Msgr. Ratzinger cared for traditional elements of the liturgy, as new elements were gradually added. There was an organic development rather than painful radical change, permitting a breaking up of “the ancient, stiff liturgy.”

Was the Ratzinger’s family life one of pure harmony? No, says the author. But family conflicts were solved in prayer. Today, when Msgr. Ratzinger visits with his brother in Rome, he reads the Breviary for him and plays the piano for the Pope.

The book concludes with a reflection of Georg Ratzinger on their 60 years as priests in 2011, which can be read as an encouragement for all present and future priests.

The book is also interesting for all those who are thinking of visiting the locations so strongly identified with the Ratzinger family.

Also helpful is the historical background information given by the interviewer, which makes it easier to sort Georg’s answers into their respective context.

Robert Rauhut writes from Munich, Germany.


By Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, with Michael Hesemann

Ignatius Press, 2012

272 pages, $24.95

To order: ignatius.com