At the beginning of 2018, the man known to the world as Benedict XVI wrote to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. The newspaper had approached him and asked how he was. His response was to acknowledge his frailty and that at 91 his life is in the last stages.
He presents a picture of a frail and holy man who has spent his life in the contemplation of his god. It is a great visual, but he dissembles.
The boy who was to come to love red shoes was born in 1927 in Bavaria. In 1941 he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth. According to his brother, he was an unenthusiastic member and declined to attend meetings. In 1943, a seminarian he was drafted into the anti-aircraft corps and trained within the infantry. He deserted in 1945, returning to the family home. Still only 18, he was held prisoner briefly and returned to the seminary on his release.
Josef was ordained in and followed a largely academic career becoming a professor before becoming Archbishop of Munich in 1977, perhaps the position was a stepping stone for soon after he was made a cardinal and by 1981 had transferred to Rome as the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The cardinal was perfectly placed. This was the place for him. As a younger man he had taken part in the Second Vatican Council, with originally liberal views but over time his perspective hardened and from 1981 onwards his position was increasingly traditionalist. His views on women in the clergy, homosexuality, divorce, contraception were all hard line and traditionally Catholic. He was even known to take a hard stance on divorced Catholics receiving communion.
The death of John Paul II
The death of Pope John Paul II was to create the major change in his life. It was not something that he looked for, but whether it was old and right-leaning Cardinals who carried the day, it was Josef Ratzinger who was elected by conclave.
His was to be a short papacy. Only 8 years, where perhaps from the outside one of the most notable things was his love for the pomp and ceremony. He was the first pope in a long time to reinstate the little red cape trimmed with fur, and unlike John Paul II he loved the red loafers made by only one family in Italy.
Benedict XVI shocked the world
In 2013 he made another surprise move being the only pope since the 15th Century to resign. The reason was increasing frailty. To this day he lives in seclusion in the Vatican. He still wears the white papal robe, and we see the odd rare photograph of two men in papal robes. He probably still wears the shoes.
Will we ever know the real reasons he resigned? Friends say that his brain is as active as ever. His body is the part giving up.