Georg Ratzinger, priest and brother of Emeritus Pope Benedict, dies aged 96

Georg Ratzinger, priest and brother of Emeritus Pope Benedict, dies aged 96
Germany Obit

Father Georg Ratzinger, the older brother of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who earned renown in his own right as a director of an acclaimed German boys’ choir, has died at 96.

The Regensburg diocese in Bavaria, where Fr Ratzinger lived, said in a statement on his website that he died on Tuesday.

His death came just over a week after Benedict made a four-day visit to Regensburg to be with his ailing brother.

Ordained on the same day as his brother, Georg Ratzinger proved to be a talented musician and went on oversee the recording of numerous masterpieces and concert tours around the world by the Regensburger Domspatzen, a storied choir that traces its history back to the 10th century.

But his reputation was tarnished as he apologised for using corporal punishment to discipline boys.

Then Pope Benedict XVI and his brother Georg, right, attend a concert by the Symphonic Orchestra Bayerischer Rundfunk and the Bamberger Symphoniker in 2007 (Andrew Medichini/AP)

He remained extremely close to his brother throughout his career, expressing dismay when Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope that the stress would affect his health and that they would no longer spend so much time together.

The pope had his quarters in the Apostolic Palace modified with a special apartment for his brother, who travelled frequently 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 religious Catholic family, the sons of police officer Josef and Maria Ratzinger, and great nephews of the 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.

During the Second World War, 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, because their father wanted them to know the truth about the Nazi regime.

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

In his book, Salt Of The Earth, Benedict remarked on the time and his own subsequent enrolment at age 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 a federal labour force, and the same fall entered the regular German armed forces as a radio operator in a signals unit.

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

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI is pushed in to a bus in a wheelchair, in Regensburg, Germany during a recent visit to see his brother Georg (Daniel Karmann/AP)

He was captured by US forces and spent the rest of the war as a POW, returning to Traunstein in July 1945, a day the then-Joseph Ratzinger recalled in his memoir Milestones, remembering that the family had no idea if Georg were alive or dead.

“A quiet worry hung over our house…” he wrote.

“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.

Then he sat down at the piano, thankful and relieved, and intoned Holy God We Praise Thy Name.

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.

As head of this world-renowned choir, whose name means Cathedral Sparrows, 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 happy when corporal punishment was made illegal in 1980.

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

“At the same time, I ask the victims for pardon.”

Georg Ratzinger at Emeritus Pope Benedict’s 90th birthday party at the Vatican (AP)

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 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”.

Still, Georg travelled to the Vatican for his brother’s installation, and was given a prominent seat on the basilica esplanade.

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.

Benedict visited him while he was in the hospital.

In October of that year, the brothers got together again.

Sanctus, a piece Georg Ratzinger composed was played at a Vatican concert for the pope and sung by the Domspatzen, while both brothers watched on together.

Then Pope Benedict XVI, right, walks with his brother priest Georg Ratzinger in Regensburg, southern Germany in 2006 (Dieter Endlicher/AP)

As Georg Ratzinger’s health failed, his brother came to Regensburg in mid-June to visit with him.

Benedict’s trip to Germany was his first trip outside Italy in over seven years.

Benedict greeted old neighbours and prayed at his parents’ grave.

He stayed at a seminary during his trip, visiting his brother twice a day.

Georg Ratzinger’s only close living relative is Benedict.

His sister Maria, died in 1991.

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