Benedict is, at the age of 78, the oldest person since Pope Clement XII in 1730 to begin a papacy after election at a papal conclave, and is the first German pontiff. Benedict XVI is the eighth German pope; the first was Gregory V (996–999). The last Benedict, Benedict XV, was an Italian who served as pontiff from 1914 to 1922 and reigned during World War I.
Benedict had a distinguished career as a university theologian before he became Archbishop of Munich, and he was subsequently made a Cardinal by Pope Paul VI in the consistory of June 27, 1977. He was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1981 and was made a Cardinal Bishop of Title of episcopal see of the Suburbicarian Church of Velletri-Segni on April 5, 1993. In 1998, he was elected Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals; later, on November 30, 2002, he was elected Dean. This latter election also resulted in him becoming titular bishop of the Suburbicarian Church of Ostia.
He was already one of the most influential men in the Vatican and a close associate of the late John Paul II before he became pope. He also presided over the funeral of John Paul II and the 2005 conclave that elected him. He was the public face of the church in much of the sede vacante, although he ranked below the Cardinal Camerlengo in both rank and authority during that time.
Benedict speaks several languages, including German, Spanish, Italian, English, and Latin. He is also fluent in French and has been an associate member of the French Académie des sciences morales et politiques since 1992. He plays piano with a preference for Mozart and Beethoven.
Benedict has opposed changing the traditional Catholic doctrines on marriage, family, and human relations, and many other controversial and non-controversial topics. However, a neat correlation between his positions those of US American social conservatives is made difficult by his (also traditionally Catholic) opposition to the death penalty and preemptive war.