I am here trying to find sources about Pope Benedictus XVI and his history with Nazism. I don't really have a question, but I thought this would be a great place to find resources on this subject from people who are catholics.

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    – Lesley
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:47

3 Answers 3


I'm a Protestant and have some serious differences with the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI was born in 1927 and thus was 11 or 12 when WW2 began. I understand he was compulsorily enrolled in the Hitler Youth, as was every German teenager. That's basically all.

The most interesting angle on his history with Nazism is how the liberal media have managed to make people assume there is some sort of scandal there; I saw the Guardian's obituary contrast him unfavourably with Pope John Paul II in that regard, which given that Pope John Paul II was decades older and Polish, was ludicrous. Somehow they never mention the being a child thing.

  • Thanks for the response. Now, I am looking for resources where I can find more info about it and understand it better. I have seen people say he's kept in touch with nazis long after the war was over, but I haven't really found any news, journals, books or articles about that. Do you have any resources? Jan 6, 2023 at 11:15
  • 1
    @BernardoBeniniFantin You heard wrong and/or are pushing rumours. Being a German, it is certain that at some point he will have had contact with Nazis in the trivial sense. Jan 7, 2023 at 5:10
  • Pope John Paul ii was in fact only 7 years older than Pope Benedict XVI.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 12, 2023 at 0:38
  • 1
    @KenGraham True, but a pretty darned important 7 years in wartime. 19 vs 12 in 1939, 25 versus 18 in 1945. Jan 14, 2023 at 6:31

The matter of Pope Benedictus XVI and Nazism?

Many years ago, those who generally did not like the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, used to nickname him the ”Panzer Cardinal”. That included many Catholic theologians.

To be honest, Joseph Ratzinger as either Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger or Pope Benedict XVI was an extremely well soft-spoken individual who genuinely cared about the salvation of souls. To call him the ”Panzer Cardinal” was to try to portray him as something that he was not!

Joseph Ratzinger was brought up in a profoundly orthodox Catholic family, which genuinely disliked the Nazi movement in Germany.

From the time he was very young, Ratzinger expressed his desire to become a Catholic priest. Young Joseph Ratzinger began studying for the priesthood when he was only twelve years old, in a minor seminary, but his studies were cut short when he was forced to join the Hitler Youth in 1941, at age fourteen. Membership in the organization was mandatory for young German men. Ratzinger was a reluctant member and refused to attend meetings or participate in youth activities. However, he was required to do his part in the war effort. One of his jobs was to dig tank traps or deep ditches along the Austrian border.

Wartime and ordination

Ratzinger's family, especially his father, bitterly resented the Nazis, and his father's opposition to Nazism resulted in demotions and harassment of the family. Following his 14th birthday in 1941, Ratzinger was conscripted into the Hitler Youth—as membership was required by law for all 14-year-old German boys after March 1939 - but was an unenthusiastic member who refused to attend meetings, according to his brother. In 1941, one of Ratzinger's cousins, a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was taken away by the Nazi regime and murdered during the Action T4 campaign of Nazi eugenics. In 1943, while still in seminary, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps as Luftwaffenhelfer. Ratzinger then trained in the German infantry. As the Allied front drew closer to his post in 1945, he deserted back to his family's home in Traunstein after his unit had ceased to exist, just as American troops established a headquarters in the Ratzinger household. As a German soldier, he was interned in US prisoner of war camps, first in Neu-Ulm, then at Fliegerhorst Bad Aibling (shortly to be repurposed as Bad Aibling Station) where he was at the time of Victory in Europe Day, and released on June 19, 1945

Ratzinger and his brother Georg entered Saint Michael Seminary in Traunstein in November 1945, later studying at the Ducal Georgianum (Herzogliches Georgianum) of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. They were both ordained in Freising on 29 June 1951 by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Munich – the same man Ratzinger had met as a child. He recalled: "at the moment the elderly Archbishop laid his hands on me, a little bird – perhaps a lark – flew up from the altar in the high cathedral and trilled a little joyful song".

Ratzinger's 1953 dissertation was on Augustine of Hippo and was titled The People and the House of God in Augustine's Doctrine of the Church. His habilitation (which qualified him for a professorship) was on Bonaventure. It was completed in 1957 and he became a professor at Freising College in 1958.

Some years ago, I read a interview by a Catholic journalist with Cardinal Ratzinger. Sorry I can not remember the title of this work, but it was composed of some 200 questions of which Ratzinger did not what to know the questions that were to be put before, which in my my opinion, shows his way to be open to be questioned about anything.

One thing, I do recall about the interview was how as a seminarian, he tried to stay out of being drafted. Towards the end of the war, he was forced by law to enter the German anti-aircraft corps as Luftwaffenhelfer. When asked if he ever shot someone while in the German army, he responded no, but one day as working an anti-aircraft battery with fellow Germans, the battery position near them received a direct hit and all those men lost their lives. Joseph Ratzinger also revealed that he was glad he never shot anyone during the war, because it would have been an impediment to getting ordained a priest, although he could have applied for a dispensation. God was looking after him!

Joseph Ratzinger genuinely condemned the Nazi movement and there is no proof of any collaboration with them whatsoever. Being drafted by law to serve in the German army to protect the motherland is one thing, but he never agreed with the Nazi ideology in the slightest.

The following may be of interest to some:

The long-awaited and authoritative biography of Pope Benedict XVI, a giant of the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI: Volume One offers insight into the young life and rise through the Church's ranks of a man who would become a hero and a lightning rod for Catholics the world over. Based on countless hours of interviews in Rome with Benedict himself, this much-anticipated two-volume biography is the definitive record of the life of Joseph Ratzinger and the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Volume I follows the early life of the future Pope, from his days growing up in Germany and his conscription into the Hitler Youth during World War II to his career as an academic theologian and eventual Archbishop of Munich. Volume II, to be published in 2021, will cover his move to Rome under Pope John Paul II, his ascension to the papacy, and his controversial retirement and news-making statements under his successor, Pope Francis I. This necessary companion to Benedict's own memoir, Last Testament, is the fullest account to date of the life of a radical Catholic leader who has continued to make news while cloistered in retirement in the Vatican gardens

Milestones is the early autobiography of Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger. It tells the fascinating and inspiring story of his early family life, the years under Nazi oppression in Germany, and his part in World War II—including how as a teenager he was forced to join the Hitler Youth and the German army, from which he risked his life to flee.


As Sean OConnor has already pointed out, the man who became Pope Benedict XVI was far too young to have had any influence on Nazism during the Second World War. He was born in April, 1927, in Bavaria. He was elected Pope in April 2005 until his resignation in February 2013. He died on 31 December 2022, aged 95.

Membership of the Hitler Youth was compulsory and Ratzinger (conscripted when age 14) was an unenthusiastic member. In 1943, while still in seminary, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps. He deserted in 1945 and was interned as a U.S. prisoner of war until June, 1945. In November 1945 he (and his brother) entered Saint Michael Seminary and was ordained in June 1951. - Source

Some critics have accused Benedict's papacy of insensitivity towards Judaism:

The relations between Pope Benedict XVI and Judaism remained fairly good, although concerns were raised by Jewish leaders over the political impact of Traditionalists in the Church during the papacy of Benedict. When Benedict ascended to the papacy, his election was welcomed by the Anti-Defamation League who noted "his great sensitivity to Jewish history and the Holocaust". However, his election received a more reserved response from the United Kingdom's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who hoped that Benedict would "continue along the path of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in working to enhance relations with the Jewish people and the State of Israel." The Foreign Minister of Israel also offered more tentative praise, though the Minister believed that "this Pope, considering his historical experience, will be especially committed to an uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism." - Source

Digging a little deeper, I found a Catholic source that speaks up against criticism, not of Pope Benedict XVI, but of Pope Pius XII (1876-1958):

In recent years, the media have accused the Catholic Church of either helping the Nazis or being silent during the Holocaust. As an example, the January 26, 1998 issue of Time magazine on page 20 claims that the Catholic Church apologized for "collaborating with the Nazis during World War II." Even the new Holocaust Museum in New York unjustly criticized Pope Pius XII for being silent during World War II. The Church has recently spoken on this topic.

The article goes on to explain the Catholic Church’s position and is worth reading, especially as it also includes brief information regarding anti-Semitism:

Not trusting the new regime, the Vatican signed a Concordat with the Reich on July 20, 1933 in an attempt to protect the Church's rights in Germany. But the Nazis quickly violated its articles... On September 20, 1938, Pius XII told German pilgrims that no Christian can take part in anti-Semitism, since spiritually all Christians are Semites. - Source

Another source I found provides more information on what was going on in Germany from 1933:

Hitler took power on January 30, 1933. On July 20 that same year, (Cardinal) Pacelli and German diplomat Franz Von Papen signed a concordat that granted freedom of practice to the Roman Catholic Church. In return, the Church agreed to separate religion from politics. This diminished the influence of the Catholic Center Party and the Catholic Labor unions. The concordat was generally viewed as a diplomatic victory for Hitler. - Source

It would seem that Pope Benedict XVI may have been falsely represented by the media with regard to Nazism, but then I haven’t read any recent articles about him. That’s why I went to Wikipedia and then to an official Catholic source. I suspect that the activities of Pope Pius XII may be worth a closer look if you want to discover more about the relationship between the Nazis and the Catholic Church during the Second World War.

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    "On July 20 that same year, (Cardinal) Pacelli and German diplomat Franz Von Papen signed a concordat that granted freedom of practice to the Roman Catholic Church. In return, the Church agreed to separate religion from politics. This diminished the influence of the Catholic Center Party and the Catholic Labor unions. The concordat was generally viewed as a diplomatic victory for Hitler." A strategy later copied in the USA by then-senator Lyndon Johnson, with similarly effective results at shutting up religious critics.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Jan 11, 2023 at 21:10

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