How the '60s Changed Ratzinger

The events of 1968 had a strong bearing on his shift to a more conservative outlook.

Excerpted from "POPE BENEDICT XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger." Copyright (c) 2000 by John L. Allen, Jr. Reprinted by permission of TheContinuum International Publishing Group.

Joseph Ratzinger arrived at Tübingen [University] in 1966, still enthusiastic about the promise of Vatican II and ready to take his place alongside the other budding superstars of German theology, especially Hans Küng on the Catholic side and Jürgen Moltmann on the Evangelical. Küng was serving as dean of the Catholic theology faculty when the chair in dogmatics came open, and he took the unusual step of not forming a


, or list of three possibilities, to fill the position. He made Ratzinger his only suggestion, after phoning him in Münster to be sure he would accept. The faculty consented.

Küng and Ratzinger by all accounts got on very well during the Tübingen years. They had a standing dinner engagement every Thursday night to discuss a journal they edited together, making Küng the only colleague with whom Ratzinger socialized on a regular basis. They were a study in contrasts, Küng zooming around town in his Alfa-Romeo while Ratzinger peddled his bicycle wearing his professor's beret; but they seemed to connect.


Küng's increasingly progressive theological instincts, however, did not sit well with Ratzinger. By 1969, when Ratzinger departed Tübingen for Regensburg, the essentials of his more pessimistic, conservative outlook were in place. The events of 1968 had a strong bearing on this shift, and thus to understand Ratzinger's development it is important to take a deeper look at those fateful few months.

Several larger forces left the "baby boom" generation in Germany especially disposed to social protest in the late 1960s. First was the legacy of National Socialism. In the drive for reconstruction after the war, uncomfortable questions about who did what under the Nazis were largely shunted aside. Two decades later, however, children of university age began to ask their parents what they did under Hitler. Often they found the answers unsatisfactory. This indictment was crystallized in 1968, when Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld slapped West German Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger across the face in a public protest of Kiesinger's Nazi past. Kiesinger had been a go-between during the war for Joseph Göbbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, and army head Joachim von Ribbentrop.

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