Brother of Pope Benedict dies at 96

Monsignor Ratzinger and now-retired Pope Benedict, at their parents’ grave in Pentling, Germany, in 2006. Photo: CNS/KNA
Monsignor Ratzinger and now-retired Pope Benedict, at their parents’ grave in Pentling, Germany, in 2006. Photo: CNS/KNA

VATICAN (CNS): Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, a musician and elder brother of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, died on July 1 at the age of 96. Vatican News reported that he died in Regensburg, Germany, where he had been hospitalised. Pope Benedict, who is 93-years-old, flew to Regensburg on June 18 to be with his ailing brother.

When the retired pope arrived in Germany, the Diocese of Regensburg issued a statement asking the public to respect his privacy and that of his brother. “It may be the last time that the two brothers, Georg and Joseph Ratzinger, see each other in this world,” the diocesan statement said.

The two brothers attended seminary together after World War II and were ordained to the priesthood together in 1951. Although priestly ministry took them in different directions, they continued to be close and to spend holidays and vacations together, including at the Vatican and the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. Their sister, Maria, died in 1991.

In an interview in 2006, Mosignor Ratzinger said he and his brother entered the seminary to serve. “We were willing to serve in whatever manner, go wherever the bishop would send us, although we both had our preferences, of course,” he said. 

“I was hoping for a calling related to my interest in music, and my brother had prepared himself from a theological-science point of view. But we were not in this to indulge in our personal hobbies. We said yes to priesthood to serve, in whatever way was needed, and it was a blessing we both got to follow Church careers that were also in accordance with our secret wishes at the time,” the monsignor said.

Born at Pleiskirchen, Germany, in 1924, Georg Ratzinger was already a proficient organist and pianist by the time he entered the minor seminary in Traunstein in 1935. Forced to leave when war broke out, he was wounded while serving in Italy with Germany’s armed forces in 1944 and later was held as a prisoner of war by the United States’ armed forces.

When the war ended, he and his brother enrolled in 1946 in the seminary of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and were ordained priests five years later. He directed the Regensburg boys’ choir from 1964 to 1994, when he retired.

Six years after he retired, accusations were made that the head of the school the boys attended sexually abused some of them. Monsignor Ratzinger said he had no idea the abuse occurred, but nevertheless he apologised to the victims. He did say that he knew the boys were subjected to corporal punishment at the school, but he had not known “the exaggerated vehemence with which the director acted,” he told the Bavarian newspaper, Neue Passauer Presse.

When Monsignor Ratzinger was named an honorary citizen of Castel Gandolfo in 2008, Pope Benedict, told the crowd, “From the beginning of my life, my brother was always not just a companion, but also a trustworthy guide.”

At the time Pope Benedict was 81 and his brother was 84.

“The days left to live progressively decrease, but in this stage as well, my brother helps me to accept with serenity, humility and courage the weight of each day. I thank him,” Pope Benedict said.

“For me, he has been a point of orientation and of reference with the clarity and determination of his decisions,” the now-retired pope said. “He always has shown me the path to take, including in difficult situations.”

Pope Francis expressed his deepest condolences and “spiritual closeness in this time of sorrow.” 

In a letter dated July 2, he told his predecessor he was touched by the retired pope’s kindness in “communicating to me first the news of the death of your beloved brother.” 

He said was praying for his brother, hoping he would be rewarded in heaven for being among the “faithful servants of the gospel.”

He wrote: “And I am also praying for you, Your Holiness,” asking that God and the Blessed Virgin sustain him with “Christian hope and tender divine consolation.”

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