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Calling himself “a son of Germany,” he prayed and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims, most of them Jews, died there during World War Two.
Born Joseph Ratzinger, he served in the Hitler Youth during World War II when membership was compulsory. He was never a member of the Nazi party and his family opposed Adolf Hitler’s regime.
“Neither Ratzinger nor any member of his family was a National Socialist,” John Allen, a leading Church expert, wrote in a biography.
But his trip to Germany also prompted the first major crisis of his pontificate. In a university lecture he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Islam had only brought evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword.
After protests that included attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia, the pope said he regretted any misunderstanding the speech caused.
In a move that was widely seen as conciliatory, he made a historic trip to predominantly Muslim Turkey in 2006 and prayed in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque with the city’s grand mufti. Benedict committed himself to Christian unity but other religions criticised him in 2007 when he approved a document that re-stated the Vatican position that all other Christian denominations apart from Catholicism were not full churches of Jesus Christ.
He confirmed his conservative view of other religions in 2011, when an inter-faith meeting in Assisi, Italy did not include the simultaneous common prayer that was held when John Paul initiated the gatherings in 1986.
At the same meeting however, he meekly acknowledged “with great shame” that Christianity had used force in its long history as he joined other religious leaders in condemning violence and terrorism in God’s name.
In 2007 Benedict made appointed a Polish bishop who once spied for communist police. The bishop had to stand down.
Benedict made a successful trip to the United States in 2008. He apologised for the sexual abuse scandal, promised that paedophile priests would go, and comforted abuse victims.
But 2009 became an annus horribilis for the pope as he made one misstep after another.
The pope prompted international outrage again in March of 2009, when he told reporters on a plane taking him to Africa and the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS only worsened the problems.