In an interview by Andrea Tornielli for the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, Pope Benedict XVI’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, revealed several unknown details from the childhood of the Pontiff, such as when he said one time that Benedict would be a good name for a pope, and that he never attended Hitler Youth meetings he was obliged to sign up for.
During the interview in Ratisbona, Germany, Msgr. Ratzinger said his brother was “a lively child, but not an earthquake. I remember him as always being joyful. From the time he was a child he showed a great sensitivity to animals, flowers and in general to all nature. Perhaps that’s why he was always given pets as Christmas gifts. His care for nature and for living beings was characteristic of him.”
Speaking later about their family, Msgr. Ratzinger said his family was “very united” and his father was a “police commissioner who came from an old family of farmers from lower Bavaria. My mother was a daughter of artisans, and before getting married she had worked as a cook. When it was possible, as kids we went to daily Mass.”
After noting that their father considered Nazism to be “a catastrophe and not only the great enemy of the Church but also of all faiths and of human life in general,” Msgr. Ratzinger said he and his brother were forced to join the Hitler Youth because “the State ordered all school-age kids, according to their age, to be signed up for certain youth groups. When it was obligatory, we were registered as a block. There was no freedom to choose, and not showing up would have brought very negative consequences.”
He said his brother Joseph “did not attend the meetings” and that that “brought economic harm to my family because by not doing so we could not receive the discounts for school tuition.”
He said that both were altar boys and that their vocations became clear early on, “first to me and then to him.” “At Tittmoning, Joseph received Confirmation from Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, the great Archbishop of Munich. He was amazed and said he would like to become a cardinal. But just a few days later, while watching a painter who was painting the walls of our house, he said he wanted to be a painter when he grew up too.”
After commenting that both were not inclined to physical activity, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger said World War II was a difficult period for the family. “We had a ticket to buy the monthly rations, which were simply generic items such as sugar, butter, oil and a little bit of meat.” He also touched on military service: “My brother was called shortly after me. We had objectives and ideals that were contrary to those of Hitler, but it was our duty as soldiers. We didn’t know when the war would end.”
Both men were ordained in 1951, and both have always considered the Mass to be the center of “our faith and our action, it is the personal encounter with God. This is naturally in first place. We cannot imagine a day without the Mass, without the liturgy. It would be impoverished and lacking the essential,” he said.
Msgr. Ratzinger said he was “disappointed” when his brother was elected Pope, because “this meant we would have to significantly reconfigure our relationship,” because they would not be able to see each other much. “In any case, after the human decision of the cardinals, this is the will of God and we must say yes to it.”
He went on to reveal that the first one to congratulate the new Pontiff when he first called home was Ms. Heindl, the housekeeper. “At that time the bells were being rung the entire time and you couldn’t hear well,” so she took the Holy Father’s call and was able to congratulate him.
Later Msgr. Georg said, “Some years ago my brother told me, ‘Benedict would be a good name for a new Pope.’ Now he doesn’t remember having said it, but I very much do.” He also recalled his brother’s personality. “He has never been a brash man, intentionally offending others. He always had great respect for the opinions of others. Often the media creates erroneous images of people.”
Lastly, Msgr. Georg told the Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli that the experience of being the brother of the Pope “is a situation that brings repercussions and consequences. When I go to the city, I always encounter people who kindly greet me, especially Italian tourists. They say to me, ‘The Pope’s brother’.” “I never imagined” that would be me, “nor did I expect it,” he said.
“It was quite unusual for a German to become Pope, because for centuries this had not been the case. We never even thought about having this honor which was completely beyond our expectations,” he said.