Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the dean of the College of Cardinals.
He was born in Germany on April 16, 1927, which was Holy Saturday that year, and baptized at the Easter Vigil services. His seminary training was interrupted by World War II, when he was inducted into the Nazi army, deserted, and was briefly interned in an American POW camp.
Ordained to the priesthood in 1951, he earned a doctorate in theology at the University of Munich, and became a theology professor first at the University of Bonn, then the University of Tübingen (where he was a colleague of Hans Küng), and finally at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria. By the mid-1960s he had established himself as one of the world's leading Catholic theologians. He attended all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, as a peritus, or theological adviser, working for Cologne's Cardinal Josef Frings.
In 1977 he was named Archbishop of Munich, and elevated to the College of Cardinals later that year by Pope Paul VI. In 1981 he was called to Rome by Pope John Paul II, who asked him to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the top theological post at the Holy See.
Cardinal Ratzinger has offered his resignation on at least two occasions, but Pope John Paul - who relies heavily upon him - has asked him to remain at his post even after reaching the ordinary retirement age.
As a young priest in Munich during 1950s, Cardinal Ratzinger attended a conference given by von Hildebrand and the memory has remained with him every since:
"Not surprisingly his theme was "beauty," and with great eloquence and enthusiasm he spoke of its philosophical and spiritual importance. The joy and freshness of his understanding of Catholic doctrine were contagious and stood in marked contrast to the dryness of a type of scholasticism that seemed then to have become stale. Listening to him, one recognized that it was the transcendent beauty of truth that had captured his heart and his mind, a beauty he found expressed in its highest possible form in the living Liturgy of the Church, most centrally in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." (Quoted from Ratzinger's Forward to The Soul of a Lion, p. 12)