Cat lover Pope Benedict XVI was misunderstood

Pope Benedict XVI was the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from 19 April 2005 until his resignation on 28 February 2013. Joseph Ratzinger, a cardinal before it became Pope Benedict XVI, was an academic and philosopher. He chose to take the route of academia and then to the Vatican rather than becoming a priest. He was described by the current Pope Francis as being a gentle man.

Pope Benedict XVI and a black cat
Pope Benedict XVI and a black cat. Image in the public domain (believed).
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

“With emotion we remember him as such a noble, such a gentle person,” Pope Francis said.

People who knew him said that he was warm but shy. He said that his best friends were his books. He played the piano, loved classical music and held a helicopter pilot’s license!

Cat ownership

We are told that he never actually owned a domestic cat but he loved them. Perhaps he felt that he did not have a lifestyle which would allow him to be an excellent cat caregiver. The Sunday Times contradicts this information today when they report: “He…loved classical music especially Mozart and Beethoven, his pet cats and Fanta – having a can of the fizzy drink every day”. I think he adopted two cats after he resigned and continued to live on the Vatical estate. His lifestyle then was highly suited to cat caregiving.

Animal lover

He was a very thoughtful man. His comments about animals indicate to me a great tenderness towards them. He said that they must be respected as “companions in creation”. He was respected by animal welfare groups because of his attitude.

The Detroit Catholic website tells us that cats used to run towards him. They recite a story about him celebrating mass at a small church near St. Peter’s Basilica when he was a cardinal. He went to the church cemetery where there were stray cats. An eyewitness said that: “They all ran to him; they knew him and loved him.”

It appears that he had been to the cemetery before knowing that the cats were there. It probably allowed him to interact with cats without owning one.

Another cardinal who worked under Pope Benedict XVI at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith described him as a kind of Dr. Doolittle. He loved animals generally and it seems had the opportunity to interact with animals through the domestic and stray cat.

It’s reported that he fed the stray cats around the building where he lived as a cardinal in Rome.

Earlier life

It is said that his love of animals and nature came from growing up in the Bavarian countryside. His childhood home was the small town of Aschau am Inn. He said that as a child he “experienced the beauty of creation. I even herded cows which brought me closer to nature, and it was important for me to have had this first experience of God’s creatures and to bond with animals.”

In his home in Pentling, near Regensburg, at that time, he became friends with the neighbour’s orange cat, Chico, who had a habit of wandering into his garden as cats do. His neighbour had a dog as well but he preferred cats.

Interestingly, a children’s book about Pope Benedict was written through the eyes of this cat, Chico. It’s title: “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat.”


Because he had deeply conservative views about Catholicism, he was referred to as “God’s Rottweiler”. And unpleasant label for a genuinely gentle, cat loving and animal loving man. That’s why I have said that he was misunderstood.

There appears to have been a huge disconnect between the perception of him by the public and news media and who he really was. He was the first German to be elected Pope in a thousand years. Perhaps he was also the first Pope to be a huge ailurophile.

Former pope a cat hater

And what comes to my mind quite quickly is the hundreds of years of domestic cat persecution in the Middle Ages which was kicked off by a Papal Bull (order or command from the Vatican) of Pope Gregory IX (1147-1241). It was he who initiated the feline holocaust in Europe. The Papal Bull was declared in 1233. In it, he denounced the black cat as diabolical and thus gave his official blessing to the widespread persecution of cats. He is described as a cat hater (ailurophobe) by Dr. Desmond Morris in his encyclopaedia Cat World.

Below are some more articles on animal lovers.

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