Try and Reform the Curia; If Not, You Leave

Confidant of the late Cardinal Martini of Milan says Pope Benedict’s resignation was a possibility from the very beginning…

In the circle, the late Cardinal Martini

In the circle, the late Cardinal Martini

The confessor and confidant of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the deceased former archbishop of Milan, revealed before his own death this year that, according to Cardinal Martini, the resignation of Benedict was “programmed” from the very beginning of his pontificate.

The story first appeared in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera on July 16. (What follows draws on this published report, which has not been confirmed or denied by other sources.)

Fr. Silvano Fausti, a prominent biblical scholar and theologian, is described as having been the “closest person to Cardinal Martini,” an influential prelate of the “progressive” wing of the Church (he once called the Church “200 years out of date”) who garnered a number of votes in the first round at the 2005 papal conclave. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the “conservative” favorite, also had a considerable number of supporters in the conclave’s initial vote.

Fr. Fausti said in a video interview three months before his June 24, 2015 death that Cardinal Martini had realized a plan was afoot at the conclave to “make them both fall” and then to elect a “very slippery” cardinal from the Roman Curia.

“Once the trickery was uncovered,” said Fr. Fausti, “Martini that evening went to Ratzinger and said: ‘Tomorrow, accept the papacy with my votes.’” For Cardinal Martini, said Fr. Fausti, “it was all about ‘housecleaning’”: attempting to reform a Curia riddled, in some precincts, with entrenched private interests.

Martini and Ratzinger, he said, held each other in esteem, despite their differences, but said Fr. Fausti, “to create news, [the media] were always trying to play them against each other.”

According to Fr. Fausti, Cardinal Martini said to Cardinal Ratzinger, “You accept, since you have been in the Curia for 30 years, you’re intelligent and honest: try and reform the Curia, and if not, you leave.”

Cardinal Martini revealed, said Fr. Fausti, that Benedict had made a speech during that period “which denounced these dirty maneuvers and embarrassed a lot of cardinals.” Benedict had said, “Pray for me that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”

As further evidence of the agreement that Benedict had made with Cardinal Martini, Fr. Fausti cited the dramatic gesture of the Pope entering the unstable basilica of Collemaggio in Aquila, after an April 2009 earthquake there; he laid his lamb’s wool pallium — the symbol of the bishop’s role as “shepherd” — on the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V, the Pope of the “Great No,” who affirmed the right of a Pope to abdicate, and then did so.

Pope Benedict XVI places a white stole on the remains of 13th-century Pope St. Celestine V during an April 28, 2009 visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, Italy. On February 11, 2013, Benedict said he would resign at the end of the month because he no longer had the energy to exercise his ministry over the Universal Church. St. Celestine V, a hermit who was elected at the age of 80, was the last Pope freely to resign from the papacy (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters).

Pope Benedict XVI places a white stole on the remains of 13th-century Pope St. Celestine V during an April 28, 2009 visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, Italy. On February 11, 2013, Benedict said he would resign at the end of the month because he no longer had the energy to exercise his ministry over the Universal Church. St. Celestine V, a hermit who was elected at the age of 80, was the last Pope freely to resign from the papacy (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters).

After almost eight years as Pope, Benedict’s strength began to flag, as his papacy suffered attacks that included blame for clerical sexual abuse scandals and the “Vatileaks” controversy. According to Fr. Fausti, Cardinal Martini said that the last time the Cardinal and the Pope met, at the World Meeting of Families in Milan in June 2012 — by this time Cardinal Martini had been ill with Parkinson’s disease for some time and would be dead within months — they looked each other in the eyes and Martini said, “The Curia is not going to change; you have no choice but to leave.”

Martini was convinced that Benedict was no longer in a position to be an effective reformer. “The time is now,” he said to the Pope; “nothing can be done here any more.”

At around that time, Cardinal Martini gave his last interview, in which he said, “Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the Church bureaucracy rises up. The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.”

Benedict began talking to his closest collaborators about the prospect of his resignation, said Martini; they tried to dissuade him.

But on February 11, 2013, Benedict announced the “renunciation” of his pontificate. Resigning “in full liberty,” he said that “to govern the Barque of Peter and proclaim the Gospel, vigor of both soul and body are necessary,” and that “in the last months” he had begun to lose them.

The papal conclave a month later elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Fr. Fausti says in his video interview, “When I saw Francis, Bishop of Rome, I sang the Nunc Dimittis — at last! I had longed for a Pope like this… since the pontificate of Greg­ory the Great (A.D. 590-604)…”

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