On February 11, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world by his announcement — in Latin — that he would step down from his papal office on February 28 at 8 p.m. in the evening. Thus began an historic period for the Church, which is still continuing.


The text below is drawn from my daily letters from Rome during February and early March.
—Robert Moynihan

Benedict XVI attends a February 11 meeting with cardinals at the Vatican. During this meeting, he announced that he would step down from the papacy at the end of the month (CNS photo).

Benedict XVI attends a February 11 meeting with cardinals at the Vatican. During this meeting, he announced that he would step down from the papacy at the end of the month (CNS photo).


February 11, 2013, Monday

Pope Benedict to Resign at the End of February

Pope Benedict XVI said today that he plans on resigning the papal office on February 28th. The announcement comes on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, an important Marian feast day.

Benedict reportedly will retire to a monastery inside the Vatican and devote the rest of his life to prayer.

It is reported that he will not be involved in the selection of the new Pope.

I saw the Pope twice this week, first at a concert and then at his General Audience on Wednesday. For a man of 85, he looked well, though he did seem tired. My sense of his decision, based on what I have seen in the past few days, is that he feels the challenges a Pope faces, including daily meetings and nearly daily public addresses, require a physical strength he feels he will soon lack. And that is what he says in his statement below.

On Saturday, I attended a funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for Cardinal Giovanni Cheli who died last week. Pope Benedict was scheduled to come at the end of the Mass, but at the very last minute, he canceled his attendance.

I am in Rome now, and will report as best I can on these developments during the next few weeks, covering all aspects of this unprecedented decision for the life of the Church: the reasons for the Pope’s decision, the possible candidates to be elected as the next Pope, and the consequences for the Church and the world.

This evening I drove through a nearly empty Vatican city.

A cold February rain fell as I went from the Domus Santa Marta, where the cardinals will stay during the upcoming conclave, around the back of the basilica, through the archway just below the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals will vote in March, down the narrow brick ramp, then out across the Piazza del Belvedere, where the Vatican Library is located, and through the arch toward the Porta Sant’Anna, where two Swiss Guards stood shivering in the drizzle.

At about 6 p.m., a thunderstorm broke over the city, and lightning bolts seemed to strike St. Peter’s dome. A bitter cold rain fell in sheets.

Pope Benedict XVI places a white stole on the remains of 13th-century Pope St. Celestine V during his visit to the earthquake-damaged Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, Italy, April 28, 2009 (CNS photo)

Pope Benedict XVI places a white stole on the remains of 13th-century Pope St. Celestine V during his visit to the earthquake-damaged Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, Italy, April 28, 2009 (CNS photo)

It was an odd day, a surreal day, this day of the announcement that Pope Benedict will resign his office… I am still finding it difficult to believe that in 20 days we will no longer have his magisterial teaching, and I am still wondering if we know the full background, all the reasons, for this unexpected decision.

Yet, the decision was not entirely unexpected. In fact, almost three years ago, in 2010, in an article entitled “The Celestine Sign,” I argued that the Pope was considering abdicating his papacy in the footsteps of Celestine V, who resigned in 1294.

We knew that he might do it, but no one knew he would do it now, while the Year of Faith is underway, while his promised encyclical on faith is not yet published, and while his campaign for a purification of the Church has not reached a final conclusion. “I thought he might resign, but only at age 90,” a Vatican monsignor told me this afternoon.

On April 29, 2009, Benedict did something unusual. He left his own pallium, the sign of his episcopal authority and his connection to Christ, on a tomb in Aquila, Italy. The tomb held the remains of a relatively obscure medieval Pope named Celestine V (1209-1296).

The studious Pope Benedict and the studious monk-Pope are “connected” in a mysterious way.

Benedict’s decision to leave his pallium in Aquila, where Celestine’s tomb is located, was not haphazard. His decisions was an indicator, a way of communicating truth through gestures. It contained a message the Pope could not deliver any other way.


February 12, 2013, Tuesday

Vatican Says Ability to Process Credit Cards Restored

Today the Vatican announced that its ability to process credit card transactions, interrupted since January 1 by a decision of the Bank of Italy, had been restored. The renewed access to international financial networks comes one day after Pope Benedict announced that he will step down from his office as successor of Peter on February 28 at 8 p.m. in the evening.

Observers had estimated that the Vatican was losing about 30,000 euros per day due to people not having enough cash with them to buy tickets, or other items like guidebooks or coffee-table books, on sale in the museums. From January 1 to February 11, then, a total of 42 days, the Vatican may have lost $1.26 million in sales.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., said Swiss card payment specialist Aduno had been contracted to provide the service, blocked for the last six weeks. “Credit card payments in the state of the Vatican City are working again, so pilgrims as well as tourists who visit St. Peter’s every day can now use the ordinary payment service, including paying for the Vatican Museums,” Lombardi told reporters.

The Italian central bank prevented the Vatican’s long-standing credit card transaction provider Deutsche Bank (DB), based in Germany, from continuing to offer payment services at the start of 2013.

In a statement explaining its decision last month, the Bank of Italy said EU law prevented EU banks from operating in non-EU states unless they had an adequate supervisory system or were deemed “equivalent” for anti-money laundering purposes. The Vatican failed on both counts, it said.

Pope Benedict has made cleaning up the Vatican’s reputation for murky finances one of his priorities, introducing new rules and hiring a top Swiss financial lawyer to raise standards to international levels. This effort has been controversial and has provoked opposition to the Pope.


February 13, 2013, Wednesday

Pope Benedict’s Unfolding Spiritual Testament

Jews, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians will find Pope Benedict’s words this morning of particular interest. The Pope, in different ways, is reaching out to each group. And in this outreach, Pope Benedict does not cease to surprise, even to astonish.

Outreach to Orthodox, Jews, and Evangelicals

Pope Benedict continues to give us hints about what he wants those who listen to him and who follow him — both Roman Catholics and all other men and women of good will — to focus on in the days ahead, in our increasingly secularized world.

What Benedict wants all to focus on, Catholic and non-Catholics, believers and unbelievers, is the great “missing element,” the great “not present” in our modern world and society: that is, the hidden God who is the source of all being and goodness, and the true end and answer to all human hopes and longings.

This morning, speaking in English during his General Audience, Pope Benedict mentioned three people as examples of “radical conversion” who were “raised up by the Lord” as “examples” during the past century: Pavel Florensky, Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day.

Benedict’s choice of these three, from a certain perspective, could not have been more provocative… because none of the three can be considered a “model” Catholic. None of them was raised in the faith. But, though not “cradle Catholics,” the Pope held up these three today as examples because each was a sincere “seeker of God.”

Each was true to a desire, a longing, in their hearts, which set them out, as it sent out St. Augustine, on a search for truth, on a search for that ground of reality which could satisfy their deepest longings.

This is the common thread.

This is what Pope Benedict is stressing today. He is reaching out to all and saying to all, be true to your deepest longings, to your deepest desire to reach that hidden infinite, that absolute which is also personal, which your soul longs for.

And he is saying that this “remaining true” is an inspiration also for those raised in the faith. He said this morning that the Lord “also constantly challenges those who have been raised in the faith to deeper conversion.”

The message is: deeper conversion. The Pope is at pains to make one, central point: that, though values, morals, customs and traditions are critical for mankind, for sinful and imperfect men and women, to come to a more reasonable, more balanced and more “sane” (healthy, healthful, vibrant) human life, the true, mysterious, radical “source” of the fullness of human life and health and sanity and blessedness — that is, the fullness of being saved from frustration and sin and death, the fullness of salvation, of eternal life — is an encounter with, a connection to, a sharing in the very divine life of God and of the Son of God, the risen Lord Jesus of Nazareth.

Those evangelical, Protestant Christians who feel that the Catholic Church, with its vast, global structure of offices, laws and institutions, has lost sight of this central fact, of the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, should feel moved to reconsider their position by these very clear words of this Pope, who is now speaking in the final 15 days of his papacy, so his words in these days may be seen as a sort of spiritual testament. He is placing God at the center. He is placing Christ at the center. Not himself, not his papacy, not the institutional Church.

Those Jews who have half-suspected, or have even been inwardly certain, that this Pope, a German who was forcibly conscripted into Hitler’s army in 1943, was not a friend to the Jewish people, should be startled by his choice of a young Jewish woman, killed at Auschwitz, as one of the “models” of spirituality he would choose to present at one of his final public audiences.

And those Orthodox who wonder if the Roman pontiff truly respects the Orthodox and their profound spiritual life and tradition, should be moved by the fact that the first name mentioned today by the Pope, in the next-to-last general audience of his pontificate, is the martyred Russian Orthodox theologian, Pavel Florensky.


February 13, 2013, Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

After Pope Benedict XVI received ashes on his head this evening from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, he spoke in his Ash Wednesday homily about the need for Christians to be united, and strongly warned against Church divisions.

Some observers took the words as a veiled reference to “infighting” in the Vatican itself.

Benedict XVI presides over his final public Mass on Ash Wednesday, February 13, in St. Peter’s Basilica (Galazka photo).

Benedict XVI presides over his final public Mass on Ash Wednesday, February 13, in St. Peter’s Basilica (Galazka photo).

“The face of the Church is at times disfigured by the sins against the unity of the Church and the divisions of the ecclesial body,” Pope Benedict said from the pulpit of St. Peter’s Basilica. “I am thinking in particular about sins against the unity of the Church, the divisions in the ecclesial body. Living Lent in a more intense and evident ecclesial communion, overcoming individualism and rivalry, is a humble and precious sign for those who are far from the faith or indifferent.”

One Vatican observer commented: “The Pope’s Ash Wednesday homily underscored the persistent infighting in Church ranks.”

The deep message of the homily is that divisions in the Church scandalize non-Christians. Ending these divisions would therefore be evangelically powerful — an effective sign of the truth of the Gospel.

The Pope himself placed ashes on the heads of several cardinals and a group of Dominican and Benedictine priests.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, his voice filled with emotion, then said: “We wouldn’t be sincere, Your Holiness, if we didn’t say tonight there’s a veil of sadness over our hearts.”

“Thank you for giving us the luminous example of a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord,” Bertone said, referring to the words Pope Benedict  used in his first public statement following his election in 2005. His voice cracking, Bertone described Benedict as a “laborer who knew at every moment to do what is most important, bring God to men and bring men to God.”

At the end of the Mass, Benedict received a long, emotional ovation from the thousands of faithful who packed the basilica, including dozens of cardinals who removed their miters in a sign of respect to the outgoing pontiff.

The standing ovation lasted more than a minute. It ended when the Pope, looking surprised but not displeased, said: “Grazie (Thank you). Let’s return to prayer.”

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent. By Easter, which falls on March 31, the Church will likely have a new Pope.


February 14, 2013, Thursday

Without a Script

Pope to Rome’s priests: The Second Vatican Council As I Saw It

The remarkable thing about Pope Benedict’s talk today to the clergy of Rome, several thousand strong, was that he did not speak from a prepared text. He spoke freely, familiarly. It was an impressive performance.

For nearly 50 minutes, the 85-year-old pontiff — who on Monday stunned the world with the abrupt announcement of his decision to leave the papacy on February 28 — spoke “a braccio” (“off the cuff”) somewhat as a professor may speak to his students in a university seminar.

It seemed that this “professor Pope” has, in the final days of his papacy, in fact truly become the “professor Pope.”

It is as if the weight of speaking with magisterial authority, which already in the past seemed to make this Pope occasionally uncomfortable (as when he issued his books on Jesus under the names both of “Joseph Ratzinger” and of “Pope Benedict XVI”) is already, two weeks before his resignation, being lifted off his shoulders.

The Holy Father speaks during an audience with priests of the Diocese of Rome in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican February 14 (CNS photo)

The Holy Father speaks during an audience with priests of the Diocese of Rome in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican February 14 (CNS photo)

His manner of speaking today reminded me of several conversations I was able to have with him in the 1990s, when he, as Cardinal Ratzinger, spoke with me, a young journalist, about some of the matters he discussed today. Benedict seemed very much at ease, though he was evidently a bit tired (one of his eyes sometimes almost closed as he spoke).

The Pope offered a personal account to Rome’s clergy of his own experience of the Second Vatican Council, and of what the Council intended.

Because it is one of the last times he will speak publicly to a large audience as Pope, the talk was closely followed by Vatican watchers.

What was the Pope’s “message” as he prepares to renounce his office on February 28?

Essentially, that the documents of Vatican II were works of great value which responded to real concerns and problems facing the Church, but which were later distorted, often by the world’s media, which had their own agenda, leading to much confusion and “misery.”

In particular, Benedict said that the popular understanding of Vatican II has been distorted presentations of the Council as a political struggle for “popular sovereignty” in the Church. This “Council of the media” was responsible for “many calamities, so many problems, so much misery,” the Pope said. He listed the miseries: “Seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialized.”

But the Pope said that the “true Council” is today “emerging with all its spiritual strength,” and he called on the priests to “work so that the true Council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and the Church is really renewed.”

At the very beginning of his papacy, almost 8 years ago, Benedict called for a reading of Vatican II “in continuity” with the Church’s 2,000-year doctrine, not as a “rupture” with that past. His talk today was a re-emphasis of this teaching.

Before the Pope’s talk, the priests greeted him with a standing ovation and a shout of “Viva il Papa!” (“Long Live the Pope!”). Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the vicar for Rome, read a short tribute to the Pope, comparing the occasion to the departure of St. Paul from Ephesus in the Acts of the Apostles. The cardinal then began to weep slightly, saying, “In the name of all the priests of Rome, who truly love the Pope, we commit ourselves to pray still for you and for your intentions, so that our grateful love may become, if possible, even greater.”


February 15, 2013, Friday

Less Than Two Weeks

Halfway through February, Benedict XVI has less than two weeks left as Pope. His pontificate will end at 8 p.m. on February 28.

The city has begun to accept the fact that the previously unthinkable will actually occur: that Benedict will step down from the papacy and devote himself to a life of prayer “hidden from the world” in a convent in the Vatican gardens.

After dramatic days, days of lighting bolts striking down on the very cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica a few hours after his announcement of his decision to step down, days of drenching rain, of bitter chill, of long nights and grey days, today was warmer, sunnier, though still quite cold.

For the Pope, today was a normal working day. Benedict received the president of Romania, Traian Basescu, at 11 this morning. There was nothing unusual: 20 minutes of private conversation (the Romanian language, because of Trajan’s conquest, is derived from Latin and so quite close to Italian), an exchange of gifts, and greetings afterward to two journalists, Salvatore Mazza of Avvenire and Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service, who formed the “pool” to observe the occasion and report back to the other journalists waiting in the press office.

“In the name of all the Vaticanists, we thank you for your commitment to the service of the Church. We are all praying for you,” said Mazza, president of the association of journalists accredited at the Vatican.

“Thank you for your teaching and for helping us to explain everything with clarity; this helped us in our work,” said Wooden.

“Grazie a voi per la preghiera,” (“Thanks to you for your prayer”), the Pope answered.

To close his working day, he received a group of Italian bishops from Liguria, the region around Genoa, headed by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian bishops’ conference.


New President for the Vatican Bank

An image of the remarkable lightning bolt which struck St. Peter’s Dome at about 6 pm in the evening on Monday, February 11; the Pope had announced his decision to renounce his office at about 11:40 am, about 6 hours earlier.

An image of the remarkable lightning bolt which struck St. Peter’s Dome at about 6 pm in the evening on Monday, February 11; the Pope had announced his decision to renounce his office at about 11:40 am, about 6 hours earlier.

In the press office, several dozen journalists listened to Fr. Federico Lombardi’s 1 p.m. briefing today on the Vatican’s decision to name a new president for the Vatican Bank.

The choice, announced at midday today after a vacancy dating back more than 8 months, to last May, fell on German lawyer and financier Ernst von Freyberg. This decision is likely to be one of the last major acts of Benedict’s papacy.

The Pope gave von Freyberg his personal support on Friday, according to a Vatican statement. Freyberg is a member of the ancient Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

He replaces Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, an Italian banker close to Opus Dei who was removed from the post in late May, accused of both negligence and “increasingly eccentric behavior.”

Von Freyberg’s task as president of the Vatican Bank will be to bring about greater transparency in the bank’s activities, as long desired by Pope Benedict XVI. US and European regulators have expressed doubts about the Vatican’s compliance with international transparency standards. When I spoke with a Vatican friend later in the afternoon, he said to me that he believed that the issue of the Vatican Bank was one all the cardinals in the College should demand clarity on before the Conclave begins.

He also told me that he thought Benedict had taken his decision in part because he feared the consequences of a stroke. That is, the Pope decided that it would be more harmful and destabilizing to the Church if he were suddenly incapacitated or paralyzed, than if he were to renounce his office while still in relatively good health. My friend told me that there is a history of strokes in the Ratzinger family and that it was a matter of real concern.


February 16, 2013, Saturday

Last Meetings, and Looking Forward

Some cardinals have already come to Rome, five days after Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement on Monday, February 11, that he would step down from his office. More will gather this coming week and during the first days of next week, leading up to February 28, the date the Pope will step down. The Pope seemed calm and rested today in his final meetings before the Spiritual Exercises. For his final “diplomatic” appointment as Pope, he received the president of Guatemala.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the press office, who was present, asked the Pope if he could express to the journalists the Pope’s gratitude for their work. “Ma certamente” (“But certainly”), Benedict replied.

During the coming week, the Pope will meet only once each day with his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Pontifical Household, to sign documents.

Pope Benedict today also received his last group of Italian bishops, coming from the region of Milan, led by Milan’s archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71.

Because he was Patriarch of Venice before becoming archbishop of Milan, and because Venice produced two of the last five Popes (John XXIII and John Paul I), and because Milan produced another Pope (Paul VI), Scola is regarded as one of the leading Italian candidates to become Pope. (I remember meeting him when he was a young monsignor and came to visit us in the offices of 30 Giorni magazine; I remember him as being joyful, very intelligent, serious and thoughtful in those days. Scola was close to the journalists of the Communion and Liberation movement, who produced the magazine, as was Cardinal Ratzinger at that time.)

During today’s meeting, Benedict XVI “era il piu’ sereno” (“was the most serene”) of all those in the room, Scola said later.

“The Pope emphasized very much — but it is the theme of this great pontificate — the joy of the faith, which was also underlined by all of the bishops who spoke during the conversation with the Holy Father,” Scola told Vatican Radio.

“We were all deeply moved,” Scola said. “We noted at the end that we felt the responsibility of being the last bishops to be received by him in ad limina visits, and he said to us: ‘This responsibility means that you must become a light for all,’” Scola said.

“We hope we will be capable of being that,” Scola concluded. (“Speriamo di esserne capaci.”)

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, emeritus archbishop of Milan, 78, was also part of the group received by the Pope.


February 17, 2013, Sunday

Next-To-Last Angelus

Tens of thousands filled St. Peter’s Square today to see Benedict XVI for what may turn out to be one of his very last appearances in public. Together, they prayed the noon Angelus prayer. Benedict is expected to appear in public for his last noon Angelus next Sunday, and then at his last general audience next Wednesday, February 27.

The Pope will then step down from his office on Thursday, February 28 — 10 days from now.

The Pope today taught about the meaning of Lent. Pilgrims in the square below cheered him, thanking him for the eight years of his pontificate. The Pope thanked the crowd, in different languages, for their support and prayers these last few days.

He asked pilgrims to continue to pray for him and the next Pope.

In English, the Pope said: “I greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present for today’s Angelus. Today we contemplate Christ in the desert, fasting, praying, and being tempted. As we begin our Lenten journey, we join him and we ask him to give us strength to fight our weaknesses.

“Let me also thank you for the prayers and support you have shown me in these days. May God bless all of you!”


February 19, 2013, Tuesday

Hilarion’s Reflection

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, 46, is head of the Department of External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Hilarion was interviewed on February 17 by Sergey Brilev, anchorman of the Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday) program of the Russia 1 TV network, about Pope Benedict’s decision to retire and Orthodox-Catholic relations.

There is certain ticklishness in what we are going to discuss because neither you nor I are Catholic. Tell me, how have you taken the news about the resignation of the Pope of Rome?

Metropolitan Hilarion: This news was a surprise for everybody including the Pope’s closest entourage. The dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, is known to have said that it was “like a bolt from the blue.” Actually the Pope of Rome had dropped some hints in recent years that it might happen, and it was not accidental that he visited the tomb of Celestine V, one of few Popes who abdicated and was later canonized. Pope Benedict XVI was contemplating it.

I believe his decision resulted from his responsible attitude to his office. Most likely, having assessed his physical resources, he made this, I would say, wise decision.

You said it was “an act of personal courage” on the part of the Pope of Rome himself, but at the same time there are words of his brother Georg who said, “No, everything is all right with his health; he is simply tired.” How would you comment on it?

Metropolitan Hilarion: I do not share this skepticism, nor do I agree with the opinion of some people who are ready to speak about a conspiracy theory in this situation. I personally met with the Pope on three occasions. Certainly, his health is not bad for his age, though in the few years I have had an opportunity to observe him, he has visibly aged, and, as they say, slipped a lot. Besides, it should be taken into account that he has never seen his office as ceremonial, and I believe never craved for it, but took the election as a cross placed on him to bear. I believe he made his decision from the feeling of responsibility as he understands that with time he will get older and weaker. That is why he made the decision to give his post up to somebody else…

Pope John Paul II was popular with the mass media; one can say he was a media-star. In those years, Benedict XVI was at his side. He was a cardinal then, leading one of the major congregations. He saw the process of aging and dying, but not in the way the mass media look at it. He saw it with the eyes of a Churchman and understood that actually for some time the Church was left without real governance under a living Pope, or the governance was entrusted to other people. I believe as a witness to this he did not want to repeat this experience in his own life.

You spoke about Celestine V. He is mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy and the author seems to accuse him of faint-heartedness.

Metropolitan Hilarion: Here is for you an example of different views of Church reality. Dante put Celestine V in hell while the Catholic Church has canonized him.

You and the Catholics have a common negative agenda, for instance, the unacceptability of homosexual marriages for both Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism – the fact often mentioned now in the news. Do you have a common positive agenda?

Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes, we have, because, in the first place, both the Orthodox and the Catholics have a common faith in One God glorified in the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Both the Orthodox and the Catholics are at one in confessing Christ as God-Man. We have differences in dogmatic matters, not as strong as those on which we agree. We disagree on the understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox confess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, while the Catholics say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is a long historical dispute; it has lasted for over a ­millennium.

In addition, we have common approaches to all the fundamental moral and social issues. For instance, our family ethics is almost identical. Why do the Catholics stand out against the legalization of abortion, support of homosexual unions and adoption by homosexual couples? Because both the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church build their moral teaching on the biblical foundation. We share it.

Incidentally, there is also a biblical foundation concerning the description of the job of the Pope of Rome, sorry for the somewhat Soviet term. The Lord describes the Apostle Peter as “the rock” upon which His Church is built (cf. Mt. 16:18)… Does Russian Orthodoxy accept the papacy as such?

Metropolitan Hilarion: We do not accept the papacy in the form it has developed in the second millennium.

We always state that in the first millennium when Christianity was united in East and West, the Pope of Rome was the Patriarch of the West, that is to say, he was one of the heads of local Churches.

After the division between East and West later, the primacy in the Orthodox family went to the Patriarch of Constantinople, while in the West a theory was developed whereby the Pope actually stands above the Church, as he is immune from prosecution by the Church and he confirms the decisions of Councils, while in the Orthodox East it is a Council that confirms any decision of a Patriarch, and so on. By the way, the present situation raises certain dilemmas before the Catholics themselves. For instance, it is not known at present with what title Benedict XVI will retire. Will his title be the Pope of Rome Emeritus (honorary) or will he become again Cardinal Ratzinger? Will he preserve the name he took when he became Pope? Furthermore, there is the question of the infallibility of the Pope, which we Orthodox challenge as well. Will it remain with him or will the infallibility abandon him at 20:00 on February 28?


February 21, 2013, Thursday

The Secret Report Given to the Pope on December 17

Today a veil of secrecy was shredded in this eternal city, marking the beginning of a difficult and important struggle for the purification of the government of the Church desired for so many years by Joseph Ratzinger.

We were given a glimpse today into some of the reasons, previously unknown, that may have prompted Pope Benedict XVI to announce his resignation on February 11, to take effect February 28, in seven days, reasons that apparently “overwhelmed his spirit within him” and “made his heart desolate.” It is a story that in many ways seems like the plot of a novel.

Pope Benedict deep in prayer.

Pope Benedict deep in prayer.

It is a story of blackmail and betrayal at the highest levels of the Church, and, allegedly, of a homosexual lobby organized within the Vatican to influence and obtain important decisions.

At 9:45 a.m., I went to the Vatican and shortly after 10 a.m. met for 30 minutes with a European cardinal who will be going into the Conclave in a few days, a good and wise man who might himself be a candidate to be the next Pope. He asked me a number of questions about the American cardinals. I answered as cautiously and as truthfully as I could.

The cardinal’s questions, and his interest in my remarks, made clear to me that the cardinals themselves may be trying to understand each other, in order to understand who among them may have the qualities of a strong, effective, global leader for the Church in this unprecedented time.

Then I went to the Holy See Press Office. Spread out on the large table in the center of the press office was an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, opened to p. 17 with a full-page story about something related to the Vatican. There was a large picture of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and three smaller photos.

“What’s that?” I asked. “Something important?”

“Read it,” my fellow journalist said. “Someone has leaked the results of the cardinals’ commission investigation…”

I looked at the headline: “The dossier that shocked the Pope,” and at the subtitle: “Fights for power and money. And the hypothesis of a gay lobby.” And I saw a sentence at the center of the article: “The Report is explicit. A number of high-ranking prelates are being subjected to ‘external influence’ — we would say blackmail — from laypeople to whom they are linked by ties of a ‘worldly nature.’”

“Blackmail?” I said.

“That’s what they are saying,” my friend replied.

The essence of the article was this. Pope Benedict last year had asked three cardinals to investigate the “Vatileaks” affair. He had chosen three cardinals older than age 80 — Julian Herranz, Josef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi — to conduct the investigation. They had begun their work last April, even before the Vatileaks scandal really “broke” in May. They were given the authority to summon any Vatican official, including other cardinals, to be questioned.

The three, evidently with a small but dedicated staff to help them, worked all year, interviewing dozens of officials. Their investigation paralleled the investigation of the Vatican police, but was of an even higher level, since the three cardinals could also interview other cardinals.

Each session began with the same set of questions, and then additional questions were asked related to the specific work of each official. Each session was recorded and then transcribed. Eventually, the cardinals were able to compare testimony, see patterns, find connections, draw flow charts.

The members of the Curia were charted according to their region of origin, their religious orders, and also (allegedly) identified as part of (or not part of) “a network across all groups based on sexual orientation” (“una rete trasversale accomunata dall’orientamento sessuale”).

On December 17, the three cardinals submitted their report to Pope Benedict. The report was some 300 pages long, and there was only one copy. And that copy is in the possession of the Pope. Eight weeks later, the Pope resigned his office, saying there was a need for a younger, stronger man to carry out the needed work of the papacy.

I looked at the author’s name: Concita De Gregorio.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“She’s not a Vaticanist,” my friend said. “The piece is actually based on a piece by Ignazio Ingrao which appeared yesterday in Panorama.” So, I needed to read the Panorama article and then… talk to Ingrao.


February 23, 2013, Saturday

Communiqué Evidently concerned that the upcoming papal conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI (the conclave is now expected to be held between March 10 and 15, though the date is not yet fixed) may be subjected to undue “pressure” from outside the Church, the Vatican Secretariat of State this morning released the communiqué printed below.

The hope expressed is that the cardinals entering the Conclave be completely free to make their choice of the next Pope.

The desire expressed is for the complete freedom of the Church, libertas ecclesiae, from information and from disinformation.

The fact that this communiqué was thought necessary shows how seriously the Vatican is taking the current situation in the media, with rumors of all types swirling and spreading across the globe in mere seconds.

Clearly, the Secretariat of State is concerned about the danger that an individual cardinal, or the Conclave as a whole, may be unduly influenced by overwhelming “pressure” from outside the Church.

At the same time, there is a growing feeling among the Catholic faithful that the best way to ensure that such undue pressure is not exerted, that the “freedom of the Church” is protected, is for more of the truth about the “Vatileaks” affair, and the results of the investigation of the three cardinals into that affair, to come out.

As one reader (but there were dozens like him who have written to me) put it in an email this morning: “All the people and the faithful want, is the truth. If this continues to blow up as it would appear, then the Vatican should release the report. The people of God deserve the truth and nothing less, despite what may offend or injure the Church’s reputation. This has similar tones of cover up like what happened with the sexual abuse worldwide. Let the cleansing begin.”


Pope Benedict greets Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chief ecumenist of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sept. 29, 2011 (CNS photo)

Pope Benedict greets Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chief ecumenist of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sept. 29, 2011
(CNS photo)

Secretary of State Communiqué on Conclave

(Vatican Radio) Please find below a Vatican Radio translation of a Secretary of State communiqué on the conclave, issued Saturday:

The freedom of the College of Cardinals, which alone, under the law, is responsible for the election of the Roman Pontiff, has always been strongly defended by the Holy See, as a guarantee of a choice based on evaluations solely for the good of the Church.

Over the centuries, the Cardinals have faced multiple forms of pressure exerted on the individual voters and the same College, with the aim of conditioning decisions, to bend them to a political or worldly logic.

If in the past it was the so-called superpowers, namely States, that sought to condition the election of the Pope in their favor, today there is an attempt to apply the weight of public opinion, often on the basis of assessments that fail to capture the spiritual aspect of this moment in the life of the Church.

It is regrettable that, as we draw near to the beginning of the Conclave when Cardinal electors shall be bound in conscience and before God, to freely express their choice, news reports abound which are often unverified or unverifiable, or completely false, provoking damage to people and institutions.

It is in moments such as these that Catholics are called to focus on what is essential: to pray for Pope Benedict, to pray that the Holy Spirit enlighten the College of Cardinals, to pray for the future Pope, trusting that the fate of the barque of St. Peter is in the hands of God.”


February 24, 2013, Sunday

The Sun Broke Through at Noon

This morning dawned grey and cold in Rome, but the sun broke through the clouds just at noon as Pope Benedict came to the window of the papal apartment to pray the midday Angelus. Below him was a vast crowd, filling the piazza and overflowing into Via della Conciliazione, estimated at as many as 200,000 people.

Benedict XVI’s last Angelus on Sunday, February 24.

Benedict XVI’s last Angelus on Sunday, February 24.

Today was dramatic. All around St. Peter’s Square, crowds flowed in for the final Angelus of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Cars along Via delle Fornaci were double-parked and there was not a single space left open along the usually half-empty walls going up the Janiculum Hill on the winding Via delle Mura Aurelie.

When the Pope appeared, just at noon, at his studio window, some 200,000 pilgrims had gathered, despite fairly cold conditions, in St. Peter’s Square to express their gratitude to the Pope for his eight-year pontificate.

Benedict XVI spoke clearly about his retirement. In Italian, he said that he felt God was asking him to serve the Church in a way that’s “more appropriate for my age and strength.”

But was there a hint in his remarks of the reason for his decision?

“Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope began. “During the Mass on the second  Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord is always presented. Luke, the evangelist, has highlighted the fact that Jesus transfigured while he prayed.”

Here was a first possible glimpse into the Pope’s mind. “While he prayed.”

The Pope is about to step down from his papacy on Thursday, in four days, and will devote his life to prayer. He will follow the same path that Jesus followed, when Jesus devoted himself to prayer, prior to his Transfiguration…

Benedict continued: “His is a deep, profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mount accompanied by Peter, James and John, the three disciples who were always present during the moments of the divine manifestation of the Master.”

Benedict, too, is about to begin a “spiritual retreat,” one which will last from now until the end of his life. He will live, in fact, “on a high mount” (the convent he will live in is up a steep hill in the Vatican gardens), accompanied by the four Italian “Memores Domini” (literally, “Rememberers of the Lord,” those who are consecrated to always be mindful of the Lord) who will keep his house and kitchen, and by his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein.

“The Lord, who not long ago had proclaimed his death and resurrection, offers the disciples an anticipation of his glory. And in both the transfiguration and the baptism, the voice of the heavenly Father echoes: ‘This is my son, the chosen one, listen to him!’ The presence of Moses and Elias later on, representing the laws and the prophets of the ancient covenant, is far more important: All the story of the covenant is oriented towards Him, the Christ, who fulfills a new exodus not towards the promised land as during the times of Moses but towards Heaven.”

Benedict, in these lines, is, of course, speaking about Christ, and not his own experience or future life.

Still, in the last words, he does indicate one of the central thoughts that he has always stressed, and that clearly still remains central to him: that the resurrected Christ “fulfills a new exodus” which leads “not towards the promised land… but towards Heaven.” He is emphasizing that all earthly things, in the end, must be left behind. He continued: “St. Peter’s intervention: ‘Master, it is beautiful for us to be here,’ represents the impossible attempt to stop such mystical experience.”

The Pope does not explain here that Peter’s words express a desire to set Jesus on the same level as the prophets, not understanding that Jesus is about to be revealed, mystically, on an entirely different level, as divine.

I was struck by the expression he chose here: that it is “impossible… to stop such mystical experience.” There seems a hint in this that the Pope is saying that he feels called to be drawn even more intimately, mystically, into the very life of God, something that only a life completely devoted to prayer can bring.

The Pope continued: “St. Augustine has commented: ‘[St. Peter]… on the Mount… had Christ as the food for his soul. Why then should he have descended to return to exhaustion and pain, while above he was filled with feelings of sacred love towards God, which inspired him to a holy life?’ (Discourse 78:3)”

I was moved by these words. I took them to be a direct reference to what he is now experiencing. The Pope is Peter. He is referring to himself. Why should he descend from the mountain of prayer to the place of “exhaustion and pain” when he can, in continual prayer, be “filled with feelings of sacred love towards God,” feelings which will inspire him “to a holy life”? Benedict is seeking the way of holiness in a life of continual prayer.

Then he said: “Pondering over this fragment of the Gospel, we can draw a very important lesson: First of all, the supremacy of prayer, without which all apostolic endeavors, and all acts of charity, are reduced to activism.”

He could not have been clearer. He was telling us that prayer (i.e., a relationship with God) is supreme, that it is critical, essential, that prayer precede, inform and follow “all apostolic endeavors” and “all acts of charity.” By prayer he means an immersion in God, in God’s will, in God’s life. Without this connection, all action is “reduced to activism.” It remains in some way on the human plane.

He continued: “During Lent, let us learn to give the right time to prayer, both personal and community prayer, which breathes air into our spiritual life. However, praying does not mean isolating oneself from the world and its contradictions, as St. Peter would have liked to have done on Mount Tabor, but prayer leads us back to the path, to action.”

Here, I could not find a way to interpret the words as referring to his own choice and future life, since it does not appear that his life of prayer will ever lead again to “action.” But could the Pope intend to “act” after immersing himself in prayer? If so, in what way?

In the next lines, I found the hint of an answer. The Pope said: “Christian existence — I have written in the Message for this Lent — means to continuously climb up the mount for our encounter with God, so that afterward we can descend again filled with His love and strength to serve our brothers and sisters with the very love of God.”

He was saying that he, and every one of us, should “climb up the mount for our encounter with God” in order to be “filled with His love and strength” in order to be able to “serve” with “the very love of God.”

Benedict is saying that he will seek God’s face in prayer, seek to converse with God, to be in communion with God, in order to be filled with the very love of God.

And then the Pope said that this interpretation is actually one he intends, that he is referring to himself in these words.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “this Word of God I feel in a particular way towards me, at this moment in my life. The Lord is calling me to ‘climb the mount,’ and to devote myself to meditation, reflection and prayer.”

So, he is going to imitate Christ, and go up the mountain. He is seeking mystical union with God. He is seeking the highest possible thing any man can seek.

“However,” he continued, “this does not mean abandoning the Church, but rather, if God has requested this of me, it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done up until now, but in a way adapted to my age and my strength.”

Benedict could not be much clearer. He is teaching the whole Church, and the world as well, by his decision to resign and devote himself to prayer.

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

He is telling all of us that the “pearl of great price,” the most important thing of all, for him and for each one of us, is our relationship with the eternal one, the Holy One, God.

It is his final, greatest teaching. If we follow Benedict in this, no matter how “besmirched” or “distorted” the Church’s face may be from sins of all types, from human weaknesses, and from the unwillingness to repent of those weaknesses and to seek God’s forgiveness, and in that forgiveness, the cleansing that leads to new life, the Church will be healed.

This is the way forward. This is Benedict’s message to us.

And he concluded: “Let us invoke the Virgin Mary’s intercession: Let her guide all of you to follow the Lord Jesus always, in prayer as well as in works of charity.”


February 25, 2013, Monday

The Three

The first thing that happened today was that Benedict received in audience at 11 a.m. the three cardinals who had carried out the investigation into the “Vatileaks” scandal, starting in April and continuing up until a few days ago.

The Pope received Cardinals Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi, the commission he appointed in April “to investigate the leaks of private information,” as the Vatican put it in a communiqué released today.

They were accompanied by the commission’s secretary, Fr. Luigi Martignani, O.F.M. Cap.

Here is what the Vatican said today in a statement after the meeting:

“At the conclusion of their mission, the Holy Father thanked them for the helpful work they did, and expressed satisfaction for the results of the investigation.

“Their work made it possible to detect, given the limitations and imperfections of the human factor of every institution, the generosity and dedication of those who work with uprightness and generosity in the Holy See at the service of the mission entrusted by Christ to the Roman Pontiff. The Holy Father has decided that the acts of this investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new Pope.”

This is an interesting statement. First, it puts everything about this investigation exactly backwards, or upside-down — or perhaps I should say, puts everything right-side up?

I am talking about the fact that the investigation was to find out who had contributed to the “Vatileaks” theft and publication of secret papal documents. It was to find out who was involved — the leakers, the bad guys.

But this communiqué says the exact opposite! It says “their work made it possible to detect… the generosity and dedication of those who work with uprightness and generosity in the Holy See at the service of the mission entrusted by Christ to the Roman Pontiff.”

The investigation was thought, by everyone, to be aimed at ferreting out the “bad apples.” But this official statement says, more or less, “we identified the good apples.”

And then, what does it say about these “good apples,” the men in the Curia who can be trusted?

It says “the Holy Father has decided that the acts of this investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new Pope.”

In short, one might paraphrase it this way: “Your work has identified those within the College of Cardinals and the Curia who can be trusted, but this list of trustworthy men is for the eyes of the next Pope only.”

One blogger put it eloquently in a Rorate Coeli web-posting: “The Pope can play the Roman game too. The guilty ones won’t know if they’ve been fingered or not, and will be on best behavior until the next Pope (one can only hope) sweeps the lot of them out of Rome altogether.”

This Vatican communiqué would seem to exclude any reading of the entire dossier by the whole College of Cardinals prior to the election of a new Pope, now expected to take place sometime between March 10 and 20 (we should have more clarity on the date by week’s end).

The last general audience of Benedict XVI as Pope. The general audience was held in St. Peter’s Square on February 27. (Galazka photos).

The last general audience of Benedict XVI as Pope. The general audience was held in St. Peter’s Square on February 27.
(Galazka photos).

It has been reported that the three cardinals, Herranz, Tomko, and De Giorgi, during the first days of March, will be present with all the voting cardinals, to talk to them. During those first days of March, the approximately 100 older-than-80 (non-voting) and the approximately 115 young­er-than-80 (voting) cardinals will all meet together. One can assume information will be shared as the Holy Spirit leads those who must vote toward the truth they need to know.

Those first days of March may very well be the days when discussions will be held that will set the stage for the actual vote itself, which will only come after those meetings, when the over-80 cardinals are excluded and the Conclave of the approximately 115 younger cardinals begins.

So, all the cardinals will be advised of the general contents of the report, but it appears that they will not be able to read the entire 300-page dossier, which will be kept for the new Pope’s eyes only.


A Broken Ring

On Thursday, February 28, three hours before his pontificate ends, Pope Benedict will lift off in a helicopter from the highest point in the Vatican gardens and fly to the papal summer villa at Castel Gandolfo.

Then, at 8 p.m. on February 28 — the exact moment Pope Benedict has said he will cease being Pope — the Swiss Guards stationed at the main doors of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo will withdraw and close the doors, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., the director of the Vatican press office, said today. The Vatican police will take over the former Pope’s security.

Pope Benedict also will hand over to the College of Cardinals his “fisherman’s ring” to be broken, as is usually done upon the death of a Pope, Lombardi said.

The ring is so called because it depicts St. Peter, who was a fisherman by trade, pulling up his net from a boat. The one worn by the current pontiff carries the inscription “Benedictus XVI” — the Pope’s official title in Latin.

The ring was placed on St. Peter’s tomb before the Pope first put it on. The ring has an elliptical shape representing St. Peter’s Square, the famous piazza designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century.

Lombardi said at a briefing last week that the ring would probably be “terminated” in private in the days after the resignation. The ring contains 35 grams of gold.

The Pope will go back to wearing an episcopal ring he wore as a cardinal.

So the ring he has worn throughout his papacy will be broken, and never worn again.

And with the breaking of the ring will come the end of the Pope’s authority, as successor of Peter, to “bind and loose” — the authority given by Jesus to Peter, in about the year 30 A.D. in Galilee, now 1,980 years ago.

It will be the first time the papal ring will be broken in this way, with its wearer still living, in nearly 700 years, almost three times as long as the United States has been a nation. So, after 8 p.m., Benedict will no longer be “Peter,” the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Universal Church.

He will stop wearing the well-known papal red shoes, whose color symbolize the willingness of Popes to face martyrdom for their faith. Instead, he will wear brown shoes. He will begin wearing a pair of brown loafers he was given on his trip to Mexico a year ago. He says he has already tried them on and that he finds them quite comfortable.

He will be called “Pope Emeritus” or “Roman Pontiff Emeritus,” Father Lombardi said. He will still dress in white, as a Pope does, in a simple, white cassock. And he will keep the title of address “His Holiness Benedict XVI.”

But the fisherman’s ring will be broken.

Decisions about how the Pope would be addressed and what he would wear were made in consultations between Pope Benedict and the cardinal secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, who is the camerlengo of the Church, as well as with others, Lombardi said.

“Why did he decide to resign at precisely 8 p.m.?” I asked someone close to the Pope and to his 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger.

“Because he’s a morning person,” my friend told me. “By 8 o’clock in the evening, he’s usually exhausted. You can forget about it. So 8 o’clock is the time that his work day ends.

“He decided to resign on the last day of February, and at the hour when his ordinary work day comes to an end.”


February 27, 2013, Wednesday

Last General Audience

The last general audience of Benedict XVI as Pope. The general audience was held in St. Peter’s Square on February 27. (Galazka photos)

The last general audience of Benedict XVI as Pope. The general audience was held in St. Peter’s Square on February 27.
(Galazka photos)

Today was the next-to-last day of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy.

Today he gave his final public address as Pope before an estimated 200,000 people in a packed St. Peter’s Square, under an unusually warm February sun. It was a beautiful day. One of the signs held up in the piazza said, “Elect Benedict again!”

The cardinals may not be willing to do this, but the sign expressed a widespread feeling that there isn’t a better choice right now, among the cardinals or in the whole world, to be the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter.

And yet, the central point of the Pope’s remarks today was that he himself — the reigning pontiff, the one who holds the power of the keys to “bind and loose,” the one who wears “the ring of the fisherman” and wields its authority — has decided differently.

He has decided that someone else can be, or can function, as a better Pope, in the particular circumstances that now exist, given his age, his health, and given everything he knows about his own condition and the needs of the Church.

And so, tomorrow evening, after a morning meeting in Rome with his cardinals, who are gathering from around the world — only 65 of them were present this morning — Pope Benedict will fly by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, a short distance outside of Rome, and the cardinals will undertake to meet in conclave and elect a new Pope.

(Note: The word “conclave” means “with a key” — “con” is the Italian for the Latin “cum,” “with,” and “clave” is from the Latin word “clavis,” “a key”; in the ablative form “clavis” becomes “clave,” and that form is carried over directly into English; so “conclave” means “a gathering in a room locked with a key,” or, “a gathering in secret, with no outsiders present to influence those who are meeting, all outsiders being kept outside a door locked with a key, until those who are meeting end their deliberations.”)


Uncharted waters

All of this puts the Roman Catholic Church in uncharted waters, of course.

Everyone is aware of the questions:

Will the cardinals choose as the next Pope someone “in line” with Pope Benedict, or someone who will be dramatically different? Then, will the two men speak together? Rarely? Often? Daily? Will the new Pope ask the old Pope for advice?

And then, does Benedict’s decision to resign weaken the idea, and the reality, of the papal office? Until a few days ago, the papacy has always been considered an office (but also more than an office, a charism, a special service accompanied by a special grace, the grace of infallibility) to be held until the moment of death. Was that thinking incorrect? Was it incomplete?

And, does the resignation decision have ecumenical implications?

Does it open the way to better relations with the Orthodox, and with some Protestants, for whom the Roman papacy, both in its theological claims and in its historical manner of functioning, has been seen as a “stumbling block” on the path toward possible Christian unity?

And, will the new Pope make dramatic changes in the Roman Curia, changes Pope Benedict might have made, or might have wished to have made, but was too old or tired to make, or for some other reason impeded from making?

Many questions… and there are many more. But today was not a time for questions. Today was time for a morning of peace, in the warm February sun.

The Pope drove into the Square in his popemobile, accompanied by his personal secretary, Archbishop Gänswein.

It took nearly half an hour for the Pope to reach the front of the Square and take his chair on the sagrato, that consecrated area of the piazza which is raised above the level of the main square, just in front of the facade of the basilica.

On one side sat cardinals and archbishops — as I said, I counted 65 cardinals present. On the other side, the diplomatic corps, representatives of governments from around the world. The Pope then spoke, gave his teaching in Italian, and at the end of his speaking, after greeting the crowd in several foreign languages, all that vast throng prayed the Our Father, singing the prayer in Latin.

The Pope then rode in his popemobile out of the Square, and the 348th, and last, papal general audience of his nearly 8-year pontificate, was over.

There was no dramatic announcement. The Pope did not say anything that from a “news” perspective was extraordinary. Or did he?

Upon reflection, what Benedict said today had quite profound importance: what he said seemed to render his decision to resign, in some way, “irreversible.”

That is, he seemed to make the idea of a pontiff resigning part of the ordinary landscape of the papacy.

This is a remarkable shift, considering that 16 days ago, on February 11, when he announced his decision to resign, the idea of a papal resignation was almost unthinkable — had not in fact been thought for 700 years, and had not been thought in this precise way ever. (The circumstances of previous papal resignations were all quite different.)

In this sense, what Benedict did by resigning on February 11, and what he did today during his general audience by “codifying” that decision, together make up the greatest single revolutionary act of his pontificate, and of his life.

Here is the relevant part of the talk today, which I will try to analyze.

“In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God earnestly in prayer to enlighten me with his light to make me take the right decision not for my sake, but for the good of the Church.”

Here the Pope introduces the subject of his resignation.

He sets it against the background of his declining strength. He does not say it, but this includes his fall in the night where he hit his head causing bleeding last March in Mexico; his declining sight in one eye; his inability to sleep at night; his exhaustion at the end of a long day of appearances; the looming burden of the multiple, long liturgies at Easter; and the looming burden of World Youth Day this summer in Brazil, though his doctor a few months ago told him that he should not take any more international flights for health reasons.

But despite all of this, he is not interested in his own health, his own life, but in what would be good for the Church.

“I have taken this step in full awareness of its severity and also newness, but with a deep peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult choices, suffering (in the process of deciding), having always before one the good of the Church and not oneself.

“Allow me to return once again to April 19, 2005. The severity of the decision was precisely in the fact that from that moment on I had been given my task to carry out always and forever by the Lord.”

Here is the place where Benedict states that his election to the papacy was something, “always” and “forever.” And “forever” would seem to exclude any sort of resignation.

“Always – he who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy…” (“Sempre – chi assume il ministero petrino non ha più alcuna privacy…”)

He is repeating the word “always.” This is clearly what was on his mind as he wrestled with his decision. He is letting us see inside his decision-making process. We can almost see him saying to himself: “Always… but I am too weak… always… but I am unable to do what I must do, for the Church’s good… Yet I am committed, and made a commitment, to continue always…”

“He always and totally belongs to everyone, the entire Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of the private sphere. I experienced, and I am experiencing it right now, that one receives life precisely when one gives it. I said before that a lot of people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and

are very fond of him. I’ve said before that the Pope has truly brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels in the embrace of their communion, because it no longer belongs to himself; instead he belongs to everyone, everywhere.

Here the Pope is speaking about how it is to be Pope, how one loses one’s private life, gives it up entirely, but then receives back much in return.

Then he comes back to the question of the resignation:

“The ‘always’ is also a ‘forever’ – there is no return to private [life]. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry does not revoke this fact. I am not returning to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but I am remaining at the foot of the Crucified Lord.”

Here the Pope is emphasizing that his resignation does not contradict the “always,” meaning, this resignation is not a normal one, it isn’t a stepping down from a public office to a private life.

Nor is it a “coming down off the cross,” as one cardinal from Poland who had been close to Pope John Paul II at first said he was doing. Benedict flatly denies this is the case. So we know from these lines that he is not simply “resigning” as we would think in the ordinary course of things. Something else is happening here. But what?

“I will no longer bear the authority of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I stay, so to speak, in the yard of St. Peter.”

This is the phrase I find fascinating. Clearly, he says he will no longer “bear the authority of the office” but then he adds “for the government of the Church.”

And then he adds a “but” — “but in the service of prayer, I stay…”

He is leaving, but he is staying. He is leaving the authority of government. He is staying in the service of prayer.

The word “recinto” is a bit strange and hard to translate. It means “enclosure,” “paddock,” “pen,” “surrounding wall.” A “recinto” is therefore a closed-in area, an area quite defined, an area created to enclose things and keep them safe.

So he is saying he is staying within the area established and closed in by St. Peter.

Though it is not entirely clear, it certainly means he continues to have some sort of connection to St. Peter and to Peter’s ministry, to “care for the flock,” to “love the lambs” the Lord asked Peter, and Benedict, to care for.

“St. Benedict, whose name I carry as Pope, will be for me a great example in this. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.”

This is a key phrase. Benedict is named “Benedict.” As an old man, at age 85, faced with infirmities and many problems requiring great energy to resolve, he is trying to understand his role, his path. He thinks back to St. Benedict, his namesake. St. Benedict committed “all” to the Lord, to the work of the Lord. But that “all” had two parts: to pray, and to work. Orare, e laborare. First, pray, then, work. Ora, et labora.

Pope Benedict feels he is too weak to work. Yet he can still pray.

So, in this motto of St. Benedict, he finds that he can do one half of his task, while being unable to do the other. So, he will do one part, even if he cannot do the other.

In this sense, he will continue… And that is what he says in these next lines…

“I thank each and everyone for your respect and understanding with which you have welcomed this important decision. I will continue to accompany the journey of the Church through prayer and reflection, with that dedication to the Lord and to his Spouse with which I have tried to live until now every day and which I want to live always. I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to such an important task, and the new Successor of Peter: may the Lord accompany him with the light and the power of his Spirit.”

Thus, Benedict today said his decision to resign was arrived at in deep prayer, was desired by God, was decided “for the good of the Church.” Implicitly, this means the decision that may again be taken in the future by another Pope.

Pope Benedict has, in this way, made a radical, dramatic change in one of the world’s oldest, most unchanging, global institutions, a change both in how it functions, and also in how its leadership is conceived.

In these words today, the Pope is explaining what an “Emeritus Pope” is, theologically and ecclesially, and what the role of such a Pope is, or may be, in the Church.

And he did this calmly, without fanfare, as if it were something completely normal.

Have even the cardinals understood the magnitude of the change the Pope’s decision has brought?

From the perspective of Church history, and from the perspective of Catholic theology on the Petrine office, the Pope’s decision goes far beyond anything connected to administrative decisions, or to “lobbies” in the Roman Curia (of whatever sort…), or to struggles for power and influence in Rome or throughout the world.

These there have always been. The Pope’s decision is new.

Vacant and not vacant…

We are now less than 24 hours away from a “sede vacante,” an empty See of Peter. A vacant papal throne.

And yet, if Benedict’s words of this morning mean anything — and I acknowledge that my way of interpreting the situation may seem quite mysterious and strange — they also mean that the See is not totally vacant.

They mean that, in some mysterious way, since Pope Benedict is still alive, and still committed to the office he was called to in 2005, and still committed to living inside Vatican City, though entirely hidden from the world, there is a sort of continuity, there is something of the papal office that continues, a strand of vibrant, spiritual continuity, even as he publicly sets the main part of that office down.

I hesitate to formulate it in this way, as it may seem that I am proposing that there are two Popes, or soon could be. This is not the case. Rather, there are emerging two ways of exercising the Petrine office, one of action, the other of prayer and contemplation.

In this interpretation, the new Pope will take up the active office, while the “emeritus Pope” continues that aspect of the office which is of prayer and contemplation.

This is what Benedict seems to be saying — disconcerting, perplexing, confusing as it may seem.

Joseph Ratzinger made clear this morning that he will never again be simply Joseph Ratzinger, a private citizen. That is excluded. He made that quite clear today. He will not be a like a president who resigns and moves out of the White House and takes up writing his memoirs as an ordinary citizen again.

So he will, in some sense — in some sense that may require some heavy lifting by theologians to clarify — remain “Peter.” Peter living a hidden life in the gardens of the Vatican, in the city of Rome. Petrus Romanus. On the day he was elected, April 19, 2009, he took the new name Benedict, leaving behind his baptismal name, Joseph. And on the day of his crowning as Pope, he took on the name “Peter,” promising at that moment to be “Pope forever” (“Papa per sempre”).

And he said this morning that he will not go back on that “forever,” even though he is resigning: “I am not returning to private life, I am remaining in the yard of St. Peter” (“Non ritorno alla vita privata, resto nel recinto di San Pietro”). Instead, he said he plans to emulate St. Benedict — again, his papal name is Benedict — in leading a life dedicated completely to God.

This space, this yard, this “recinto” where Benedict will remain, is not simply a physical space, the former nuns’convent in Vatican City, in the gardens.

It is actually a spiritual space in the structure of the Church herself, a place “near Peter,” a space in which an emeritus Pope, even if “hidden from the world,” continues to live and have a role, like one more link in the chain of apostolic succession.

One might almost say it like this: (1) the new Pope, who will be elected in two or three or four weeks’ time, will be linked to all previous Popes who have died, and this is shown by the many tombs of Popes found in St. Peter’s Basilica, and by St. Peter’s tomb (which is directly under the high altar, and directly under the massive cupola of Michelangelo); but (2) the new Pope will also be linked to one previous Pope who has not physically died, but has, in a sense, been buried “to the world,” and yet lives “in prayer,” in a convent near the basilica, though “dead to the world.”

It will be up to Pope Benedict’s successor to decide how to use this resource, how to relate to the still living Pope who has nevertheless died to the world.

Will he consult with him? Will he not see him at all? We do not know. On Sunday, the Pope spoke in his homily about the Transfiguration of the Lord.

Today, Benedict was, in a manner of speaking, “transfigured.”

His figure is no longer that of a reigning Pope.

Nor is it that of a citizen who has stepped down from a high office. That is not at all what has happened.

Benedict has become a unique figure, not one and not the other, not a Pope and not a non-Pope.

He is an “emeritus Pope” who has finished his active service, but not laid down the burden of a life of service which he took upon his shoulders on the day of his election to the See of Peter.

This is something new in Church history, and like all new things, there will be a period of time before we really begin to comprehend fully what it means.

The Pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, seemed to sense this when he spoke about this morning’s events to the press corps.

There was a climate of “profound emotion and serenity,” Lombardi said.

Then he added: “I don’t know if you were able to see, on the television monitor, the last moments of the Vatican television feed that showed a face of the Pope that was very beautiful and extremely serene, with a radiant smile.” That “beautiful face,” that “radiant smile” suggests that Pope Benedict has “moved on.” He is in a new place.

The old descriptions no longer suffice to describe where he is. It will take us time to understand better what it means.

After the audience, the Pope returned to the Apostolic Palace and received privately the president of Slovakia, Ivan Gasparovic, and the president of Bavaria, Germany, Horst Seehofer, as well as the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, and the ruling captains of the Republic of San Marino, Teodoro Lonferini e Denis Bronzetti.

Early this afternoon, Lombardi said the Pope’s serenity and joy were due to his consciousness “of having finished a good work and of having taken this decision before God and in complete accord with what the will of God was asking of him.”

Lombardi then went over a few passages from the Pope’s teaching.

Lombardi said the passage on the work of God, where the Pope referred to St. Benedict, was very important. “Opus Dei, the work of God, what he has tried to do and what he will continue to do,” Lombardi said. “He showed us a way for a life that, active or passive, belongs totally to the work of God. Thus (the Pope was saying) my work is in the work of God.”

Lombardi also told journalists that the stove to burn the ballots after each vote during the conclave has not yet been installed in the Sistine Chapel. Tomorrow the College of Cardinals — those who are already in Rome — will meet with the Pope in the large Sala Clementina.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 85 (the same age as the Pope), who is the dean of the College, will give a talk of farewell to the Pope. The Pope will then have a moment to speak with each cardinal, one by one, privately.

The Pope will then leave from Vatican City by helicopter at 5 p.m. sharp.

A few minutes later, at Castel Gandolfo, Benedict will enter the papal summer palace, then come to the window and say a few words to the people of that small town.

Those will be the Pope’s last public words ever.


February 28, 2013, Thursday

Sodano and Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI embraces Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, as he leaves the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo, Italy, February 28. “I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” the Pope said at the close of his papacy. (CNS photo / L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI embraces Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, as he leaves the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo, Italy, February 28. “I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” the Pope said at the close of his papacy. (CNS photo / L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Today is the final day of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. In less than five hours, he will cease to be Pope.

For me personally, it is an emotional day.

First, because I know Pope Benedict personally, and sense his tiredness as he takes this decision. I myself became tired simply trying to follow his words and actions from afar, just listening and watching; he had to move about, greet thousands of people, compose and read long texts. I knew that in recent months he was having trouble sleeping; sometimes he would lie awake almost all night, concerned about the situation of the Church and the Curia. I hope and trust he will now find that measure of rest which all of us long for, and he so richly deserves.

Second, because these next weeks will be intense, and filled with a chaos of news and interpretations. The streets of Rome are already filled with journalists from around the world. There is an enormous scaffolding just outside St. Peter’s Square. The lenses of TV cameras are focused on the dome of St. Peter’s and will be so during the conclave, during the time of the black smoke, and then when smoke turns white, and then in the first days of the new papacy. Each step in this process will be subject to interpretation, and spin. It is an exciting time, but also a dangerous time, and it is so difficult to separate rumor from truth, and spin from honest analysis. So it will be a time of much work, and little sleep…

Third, because today is an important day in my own life. On this day, 20 years ago, here in the city of Rome, my son Luke was born. In seeing him as an infant, and in watching him grow, I was given a glimpse into what really matters. The innocence of children, their openness toward what is good, true and beautiful, is a testimony to our underlying nature, a nature “in the image and likeness of God.” It is God whom our nature seeks, to return to Him, to be like Him. To seek to protect and defend children, to seek to fill them with good things, with courage and commitment to the highest ideals, with a love of justice, with the knowledge of that inexpressible joy which seeks expression in music, in song, in gift-giving, and which reflects the ultimate reality beyond all appearances and beyond all space and time, is “what it is all about.” (In his last remarks to the cardinals, printed below, the Pope asks the cardinals to become like an orchestra, playing in a marvelous harmony.) To do everything “for the children” is the solid basis for a civilization and a culture of love, not of death. It is something all human beings can agree upon. It is something that is at the heart of the teaching of Pope Benedict, and of the teaching of Christ himself. Luke has been my teacher in coming to understand this. Happy 20th birthday, Luke. —Dad

Below please find a Vatican Radio translation of the farewell discourse by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals to Pope Benedict XVI.


With great trepidation the cardinals present in Rome gather around you today, once again to show their deep affection and express their heartfelt gratitude for your selfless witness of apostolic service, for the good of the Church of Christ and of all humanity.

Last Saturday, at the end of the Spiritual Exercises in the Vatican, you thanked your collaborators from the Roman Curia, with these moving words: My friends, I would like to thank all of you not only for this week but for the past eight years, during which you have carried with me, with great skill, affection, love and loyalty, the weight of the Petrine ministry.

Beloved and revered Successor of Peter, it is we who must thank you for the example you have given us in the past eight years of Pontificate.

On 19 April 2005 you joined the long line of successors of the Apostle Peter, and today, 28 February 2013, you are about to leave us, as we wait for the helm of the Barque of Peter to pass into other hands.

Thus the apostolic succession continues, which the Lord promised His Holy Church, until the voice of the Angel of the Apocalypse is heard to proclaim on earth: “Tempus non erit amplius… consummabitur mysterium Dei” (Apocalypse 10:6-7): “There is no longer time: the mystery of God is finished.”

So ends the history of the Church, together with the history of the world, with the advent of a new heaven and a new earth.

Holy Father, with deep love we have tried to accompany you on your journey, reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus who, after walking with Jesus for a good stretch of road, said to one another: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way?” (Luke 24:32).

Yes, Holy Father, know that our hearts burned too as we walked with you in the past eight years. Today we want to once again express our gratitude.

Together we repeat a typical expression of your dear native land, “Vergelt’s Gott” — God reward you!

Below please find a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s words to the College of Cardinals Thursday morning:

Dear beloved brothers,

I welcome you all with great joy and cordially greet each one of you. I thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who as always, has been able to convey the sentiments of the College, Cor ad cor loquitur. Thank you, Your Eminence, from my heart.

And referring to the disciples of Emmaus, I would like to say to you all that it has also been a joy for me to walk with you over the years in light of the presence of the Risen Lord.

As I said yesterday, in front of thousands of people who filled St. Peter’s Square, your closeness, your advice, have been a great help to me in my ministry.

In these eight years we have experienced in faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the Churches’ journey along with times when clouds have darkened the sky.

We have tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love which is the soul of our ministry. We have gifted hope that comes from Christ alone, and which alone can illuminate our path.

Together we can thank the Lord who has helped us grow in communion, to pray together, to help you to continue to grow in this deep unity so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal Church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord.

I would like to leave you with a simple thought that is close to my heart, a thought on the Church, Her mystery, which is for all of us, we can say, the reason and the passion of our lives. I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini’s, written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen Gentium, his last with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me.

Guardini says: “The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.”

This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the Square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday.

This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: “The Church is awakening in souls.” The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today.

Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places. Let us remain united, dear brothers, to this mystery, in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and all humanity. This is our joy that no one can take from us.

Prior to bidding farewell to each of you personally, I want to tell you that I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you may all be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new Pope.

May the Lord show you what is willed by Him. And among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope, to whom, here today, I already promise my unconditional reverence and obedience. For all this, with affection and gratitude, I cordially impart upon you my Apostolic Blessing.


February 28, 2013, Thursday


This evening, while the sun was still shining, Pope Benedict XVI left the Apostolic Palace inside Vatican City, accompanied by Cardinal Angelo Comastri and Cardinal Agostino Vallini. At about 5 p.m., before getting into the car that would take him to the helicopter, he said goodbye to the staff at the Vatican, and to Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo.

At 5:05 p.m., as the bells at St. Peter’s Basilica rang out across the Square, the all-white helicopter took off towards Castel Gandolfo. The flight first swept toward the Janiculum Hill, then turned and in a long arc passed back over St. Peter’s Basilica, then across the Tiber River and over the center of the Eternal City, above some of the major landmarks, like the Colosseum and the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Upon arriving at Castel Gandolfo, after about a 15-minute flight, the Pope was welcomed by Cardinal Giu­seppe Bertello, as well as the mayor of Castel Gandolfo.

A car took the Pope to the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo at about 5:30 p.m. Hundreds of pilgrims were there to hear the last few words of Benedict XVI as Pope. The Pope entered the palace, then appeared at the window above the main portals.

“I am simply a pilgrim that begins his last phase on this earth,” Benedict said. “I would like to, with all my heart, my prayer and my reflection, with all the strength inside me, work for the common good and the good of the Church and humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy. Let’s move forward together, with the Lord, for the good of the Church and the world. Thank you. I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing.”

After giving them his blessing, Benedict XVI said goodbye. It was his last appearance as Pope. At 8 p.m., his pontificate ended, and the “sede vacante” began. His light in the papal apartments was dark this evening. In the Square below, small groups of faithful were praying quietly, or singing hymns, at 10 p.m. this evening. During the period when there is no Pope, all Vatican department heads will temporarily lose their posts until a new Pope is elected.

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