'A Humble Intellect'

Controversial German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann explains why she's glad that her former classmate has been made pope.

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You're not the only person who might be surprised by your response. After all, you were one of the sharpest critics of John Paul II, whom Ratzinger served as chief theological adviser...

Well, yes, there is obviously a discrepancy between my respect for Ratzinger and my total disagreement with John Paul II. I asked myself this question earlier-why on earth have I always liked Ratzinger, for more than 51 years, while over the past 26 years John Paul II constantly got on my nerves? I confess I'm not sure I know the answer.

Let's back up. When did you first meet Ratzinger?

We were doctoral students together at the University of Munich in 1953 and 1954, which was the first time a woman was allowed to get a doctorate in Catholic theology. And our respect for each other deepened when we had to defend our theses in Latin. In preparation, we translated our theses together from German into Latin.

"Ratzinger has much more of what the French call esprit de finesse. And John Paul II had none!"

What was the new pope like as a theology student?


He was very intelligent. He was the star student-the star-male student; there were very few female students-and we all admired his intelligence. But there was something more about him I admired. He was a rather shy student, not obsessed with his ego. I liked his humble intelligence. I still do like many passages in his books, and I've quoted them in my books. And all my life, many people have been astonished that I've always sort of defended Ratzinger, even though I've said that many of his opinions are totally wrong.

Was he theologically conservative as a student?

Well, when I studied theology I was a sheep. I believed everything I was taught, and Ratzinger, of course, did as well. But soon he became a very progressive theologian. And at the Second Vatican Council he served as the theological adviser to Cardinal Frings of Cologne, a very beloved and progressive voice, along with Karl Rahner and others. Ratzinger was chosen because of his modern perspective.

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