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Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano

By Phil Lawler, Catholic Culture, Dec 31, 2022

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at

He didn’t want to be the Pope. He didn’t even want to be the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office. Father Joseph Ratzinger was happy to be a theologian: reading and thinking and praying and writing about the beauty of the faith, guiding others to do the same.

Twice (at least) Cardinal Ratzinger asked Pope John Paul II to release him from his work as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, so that he could resume his beloved work as a scholar and teacher. But when the saintly Polish Pontiff said that he needed him, as a colleague and an ally, the German cardinal heard the call of duty and complied.

When St. John Paul II died, and the conclave elected Cardinal Ratzinger to replace him, I was overjoyed for myself and for the Church at large, yet apprehensive for him personally. Would the new Pope be burdened by this new office? Would he regret being denied, yet again, an opportunity to turn back to academic work? Then he appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s, wreathed in smiles, and I realized that he had not only accepted his new role; he had embraced it, chosen to welcome it, to rejoice in it, because he saw it as God’s will. …

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