Retired Pope Benedict's brother who fought for the Nazis dies aged 96

Retired Pope Benedict’s ailing priest brother – who was famously shot in action when he fought FOR the Nazis – dies aged 96

  • He died a week after the former Pope Benedict XVI, 93, flew to Germany to visit  
  • Ratzinger was captured by US forces and taken as a prisoner of war during WW2
  • He admitted using corporal punishment against boys, tarnishing a successful music career

Father Georg Ratzinger, the ailing older brother and last family member of retired Pope Benedict XVI , has died aged 96.

His death comes just over a week after 93-year-old Benedict – who was the 265th pope between 2005 and 2013 – rushed to his bedside at the Regensburg dioecese in Germany for a four-day visit. 

It marked his first trip outside of Italy in more than seven years.  

‘It is perhaps the last time that the two brothers, Georg and Joseph Ratzinger, will see each other in this world,’ Regensburg diocese spokesman Clemens Neck said at the time, using Benedict’s name before he became pope. 

Ratzinger fought for the Nazis in World War Two, and survived being shot in the arm in 1944 before being captured by US forces and taken as a prisoner of war. 

And despite later forging a career as a successful musician, his reputation was tarnished in recent years after he admitted using corporal punishment to discipline boys.

A picture from 29 June 1951 shows George Ratziner (left) and his brother Josef Ratzinger (right), during their ordination

The retired pope, who was accompanied by his long-time personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, a doctor and a nurse, was taken to be with his 96-year-old brother just over a week ago

Pope Benedict XVI (R) visits his brother, Georg Ratzinger, at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, Italy, on 5 August 2005. Georg was taken to hospital in Rome because of an irregular heartbeat and had a pacemaker implanted

He remained extremely close to Joseph throughout his career – and both were ordained on the same day – but expressed dismay when he was elected pope.

Ratzinger was concerned that the stress would both affect his brother’s health and limit their time together.  

But the former pope had his quarters in the Apostolic Palace modified with a special apartment for his Georg, who frequently travelled from his home in the Bavarian city of Regensburg to Rome.

Elected to the papacy in 2005, Benedict stepped down in 2013 and was succeeded by current Pope Francis.

The two came from a devoutly religious Catholic family, the sons of police officer Josef and Maria Ratzinger.

Their great uncle was German politician Georg Ratzinger, a priest and social reformer who was a member of the Bavarian and Federal parliament.

Born on January 15 1924 in the Bavarian town of Altoetting, Georg Ratzinger showed an early talent for music, playing the church organ at age 11.

The family eventually settled outside nearby Traunstein in 1937, where he and his brother joined the seminary.

Georg Ratzinger said in an interview that he remembered huddling with the blinds drawn with his younger brother and father listening to Allied radio broadcasts during WW2 – because their father wanted them to know the truth about the Nazi regime.

Pope Benedict XVI prays with his brother Mons. Georg Ratzinger in his private chapel at the Vatican April 14, 2012. Georg Ratzinger said in an interview that he remembered huddling with the blinds drawn with his younger brother and father listening to Allied radio broadcasts during WW2 – because their father wanted them to know the truth about the Nazi regime

George Ratzinger (left) was captured by US forces and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war, returning to Traunstein in July 1945. He is pictured above with the former pope in 2006

Though the Ratzinger family was anti-Nazi, Georg Ratzinger was enrolled into the Hitler Youth in 1941 at the age of 14. 

Official details of the boys’ Hitler Youth days no longer exist, as all of the organisation’s archives for the area were burned ahead of the US advance at the end of the war.

In 1942, Georg Ratzinger was drafted into the German armed forces as a radio operator in a signals unit.

After serving in France, the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia, he was sent to Italy in 1944 where he was wounded in fighting.

He was captured by US forces and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war, returning to Traunstein in July 1945, a day the then-Joseph Ratzinger recalled in his memoir Milestones.

Georg (left) and Josef Ratzinger (right) during their ordination in Freising, southern Germany

Pope Benedict XVI strolls in a garden with his Georg Ratzinger during his annual holiday in Bressanone, northern Italy in July 2008

He recalled that the family had no idea if Georg were alive or dead and wrote that ‘a quiet worry hung over our house’.

‘Suddenly, on a hot July day, we steps were audible and he whom we had missed for so long was again standing in our midst, tanned from the Italian sun.’

Following the war, the brothers entered the seminary of the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to study for the priesthood.

They were ordained together on June 29 1951, in the Cathedral at Freising on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

After working his way up as priest in the region, Georg Ratzinger was appointed musical director of St Peters Cathedral in Regensburg in 1964, becoming the conductor of the famed cathedral choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen.

Pope Benedict XVI and his brother Georg, right, attend a concert by the Symphonic Orchestra Bayerischer Rundfunk and the Bamberger Symphoniker at the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican in October 2007

As head of this world-renowned choir Georg Ratzinger helped build its reputation around the world, running tours that included trips to the Vatican, the United States, Canada, Poland and Japan and performances for the Queen and Pope John Paul II.

But well after his retirement from the post, revelations of sexual and physical abuse at the choir haunted him.

In 2010, Georg Ratzinger apologised for using corporal punishment to discipline boys in the choir, saying he was aware of allegations of physical abuse at an elementary school linked to the choir but did nothing about it.

‘At the beginning I also repeatedly administered a slap in the face, but always had a bad conscience about it,’ Georg Ratzinger told the Passauer Neue Presse, adding that he was pleased when corporal punishment was criminalised in 1980.

‘Of course, today one condemns such actions; I do as well.

‘At the same time, I ask the victims for pardon.’

He claimed he was completely unaware of allegations of sexual abuse, which he said dated from before his tenure as choir director.

‘These things were never discussed,’ Georg Ratzinger said.

‘The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of.’

His relationship with his brother always played a special role in his life.

Georg Ratzinger (second left) is seen with his brother Joseph (far left), parents Maria and Joseph and sister Maria (second right). After working his way up as priest in the region, Georg Ratzinger was appointed musical director of St Peters Cathedral in Regensburg in 1964, becoming the conductor of the famed cathedral choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen

Georg Ratzinger once lamented in an interview that his brother’s role as pope would mean ‘family life might be a bit more limited’ and acknowledged that he ‘had hoped that the cup would pass him by’.

While visiting the pope in August 2005, Georg Ratzinger was taken to hospital in Rome because of an irregular heartbeat and had a pacemaker implanted,. 

The Vatican declined to say how Benedict travelled to visit his brother last month, but Italian media reported that Italy’s government had lent an official aircraft, apparently operated by the Italian air force, for the flight to Munich.  

The retired pope, who is himself quite frail, generally lives a secluded retirement in a Vatican retreat house but will occasionally appear in public and has been visited by Pope Francis on a number of occasions.

Benedict last visited Regensburg, spending time with his brother, while pope, in 2006. 

Georg was been a frequent visitor to the Vatican, where Benedict had long served as a cardinal, in charge of ensuring doctrinal orthodoxy.

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