"From the beginning of my life, my brother has always been for me not only a companion, but also a trustworthy guide" -- Pope Benedict XVI, Aug. 21, 2008.
Writer and historian Michael Hesemann spent months interviewing Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, the older brother of Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, at his home in Regensburg, Germany, to capture the intimate details of his life with the pope, from childhood to papacy, and to "get the facts" about the Ratzinger family's role in the Nazi party.
These interviews became Ratzinger's memoirs in a book entitled, "My Brother, The Pope," due out on March 1.
"Nobody on Earth knows our pope as good as his brother, the person who was a few years older and experienced his birth and childhood and all his way up to priesthood, who was ordained as a priest on the very same day as the Holy Father and who was in contact with him for his life, a most intimate contact, because they're brothers," Hesemann said.
"This book was written not from the perspective of a historian... it is the memoirs of the brother of the pope," he continued. "That's what makes it special. It is the most intimate biography of the pope possible."
Hesemann, 47, is a German Catholic and an expert in church history. He said he was fascinated by the story of the Ratzinger brothers because it was such a "unique phenomenon" to have two "geniuses of his own kind" come from the same family -- Georg Ratzinger was an internationally acclaimed choir leader and musician before his brother Joseph, whom Hesemann called "the greatest theologian of the German language," even became a cardinal.
In writing this book, Hesemann said he was surprised to learn that the pope was an "unambitious" man, "a loner" growing up, who was content to be a theology professor in Germany and never aspired to rise through the Catholic ranks.
"[The pope] never wanted to become a bishop, he never wanted to become cardinal, he never wanted to go to Rome, for three times he resisted the call of pope John Paul II to Rome, but eventually he had to be obedient to the Pope... and certainly never wanted to be pope," Hesemann said. "It was against his plan. It was the plan of God but was not the plan of Joseph Ratzinger."
Having written books about Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II, the Vatican granted Hesemann permission to write a biography about Pope Benedict XVI shortly after his election to the papacy in April 2005. It was after that the biographer said he developed a strong interest in interviewing Pope Benedict's older brother, Georg Ratzinger. After waiting almost six years, Hesemann said the Monsignor agreed to have him record his memoirs.
"[Ratzinger] was a little bit hesitant because he is very shy, he doesn't like to be interviewed," Hesemann said. "He doesn't like to be the center of attention and he is 88 years old now, he was 87 at the time, and he wants a quiet life."
One of the most incredible things about the book, "My Brother, the Pope," is the detail Georg Ratzinger recalled about his childhood. For example, although he was just 3 years old at the time, he told Hesemann he could remember being woken up to frantic footsteps the morning Joseph was born.
"I was very impressed by his excellent memory," Hesemann said. "All of the places listed, I visited myself... I found them remarkably correct... so we really have a very authentic testimony."