September 20, 2018, Thursday
“The figure of ‘Pope Emeritus’ does not exist in the entire history of the Church.”—Cardinal Walter Brandmueller, 89, in an interview almost one year ago, in October 2017, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commenting on the 2013 decision of Pope Benedict to resign the papacy and yet to continue to be called “Pope Emeritus,” and the after-effects of these decisions. Emeritus Pope Benedict read the interview, and picked up a pen to write a response to Brandmueller. That response was just made public this morning in the German tabloid paper Bild. And it has sparked worldwide interest, because it reopens the question of Benedict’s resignation, almost six years after the fact
“I can well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my pontificate caused you and many others. But for some — and it seems to me for you as well — the pain has turned to anger, which no longer just affects the abdication but my person and the entirety of my pontificate. In this way the pontificate itself is being devalued and conflated with the sadness about the situation of the Church today.” —Emeritus Pope Benedict, in a November 23, 2017 letter to Cardinal Brandmueller. Observers are parsing each phrase of Benedict’s year-old letter to see what the words reveal about what his state of mind may have been at the time of his resignation, and what he may think about the present situation of the Church. In this regard, his use of the phrase “the sadness about the situation of the Church today” is being weighed. What “sadness” over what “situation” in the Church today is the former Pope referring to? The answer is not clear
Today is the 27th day since the publication of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s “Testimony.” (The full text is here; it was made public on the evening of August 25.)
The major news item today — on the eve of a weekend papal trip to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia — is the publication in a German tabloid (Bild) of two up-until-now private letters written last fall (in 2017) by Emeritus Pope Benedict, now 91, to German Cardinal Walter Brandmueller, who is 89.
In these letters, Benedict speaks candidly about his 2013 resignation of the papacy.
And he also suggests that he is “saddened” by the “situation” of the Church “today” (in November 2017). But what he is “saddened” about, what “situation” in particular he is referring to, is not clear.
Since Benedict has said or written almost nothing substantive about his resignation during these past almost six years (there were some relevant remarks he did make to Peter Seewald, evidently after his 2013 resignation, that appeared in the book Last Testament, published on September 9, 2016) many in Rome and around the Catholic world are now parsing these newly published letters very carefully indeed, seeking some turn of phrase or choice of wording to interpret one of the great ecclesial mysteries of our time: the mind of Emeritus Pope Benedict regarding his own resignation.
Some people are looking in these letters for evidence that Pope Benedict may have felt “under pressure” to resign the papacy.
Why? Benedict himself said he took his decision after much deep prayer, and in complete freedom.
But some have always felt that the evidence of pressure on Benedict — from ceaseless press attacks, to the disobedience of underlings, to the “Vatileaks” scandal (when private papers were stolen from his own desk), to the shutting down of the Vatican’s credit card links to the world’s banks in the first days of 2013 (so that visitors to the Vatican Museums, for example, as I myself experienced, had to buy tickets with cash only, credit cards being non-functioning) — is sufficient to cast his own subjective judgment into question. Yes, Benedict thought and believed he was acting freely, an argument might run, but objectively, he was being placed under great pressure to resign. And a resignation made under great pressure, even if made freely, would still perhaps have to be judged — so the argument would run — as invalid. (This is not a judgment on the validity of Benedict’s decision, but merely an attempt to sketch the logical parameters any judgment of such an action — seemingly — would have to take into account.)
There is a mystery about the emergence now of these two letters: Who actually leaked the letters to Bild? And why? Why now? We do not know.
Logically, it would seem, either the letters were leaked from the side of the sender (Emeritus Pope Benedict or his circle) or from the side of the receiver (Cardinal Walter Brandmueller). Possibly — one might speculate — someone “external” to both households could have entered one or the other living quarters and surreptitiously obtained copies of the letters. But we simply do not yet know.
In any case, the letters have been “leaked,” and no one has yet revealed who leaked them, to whom, when, or, most of all, why.
Brandmueller, since he is a German intellectual — he is regarded as one of the leading modern German historians of the Protestant Reformation — has known Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) for decades. And Pope Benedict has long admired Brandmueller’s character, spirit and intellectual achievements, enough to decide to honor Brandmueller by making him a cardinal in 2010 (when Brandmueller was already past age 80 and so ineligible to vote in a Conclave). It was clearly a sign of respect and appreciation.
But Brandmueller from the moment Benedict announced his decision on February 11, 2013, to resign the papacy felt the decision was in various ways problematic.
Brandmueller told me this privately on two occasions. He said he felt Benedict’s decision was one that could in some way harm the Church, perhaps — against Benedict’s will and expectations — undermining the authority of the papal office, perhaps exposing future Popes to calls for their resignation as they became old, or as they took difficult decisions which might arouse vigorous opposition and… calls for resignation.
Brandmueller was daring enough to express these critical opinions in a published interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last October 28.
“The figure of ‘pope emeritus’ does not exist in the entire history of the church,” he said.
Emeritus Pope Benedict read the interview, and picked up his pen to write a letter to Brandmueller defending his decision.
Brandmueller wrote back, a bit apologetically, saying he had intended no offense.
And Benedict wrote back acknowledging that letter.
Those two letters of Benedict to Brandmueller are the ones that have now been made public.
Brandmueller lives inside Vatican City in a rather simple Vatican apartment inside the building that houses the Fabbrica of San Pietro. The building is attached to the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica (looking at the basilica from the Square) and is just a few steps (perhaps 50 yards, perhaps even less) from the Domus Santa Marta where Pope Francis lives, and it is only about 300 yards distant from the small convent in the Vatican Gardens where Emeritus Pope Benedict lives. So one might imagine that the letters were hand-carried from one writer to the other…
(1) The original Bild article, text below (link). Note: This link includes a photograph of a small section of the end of the letter of Emeritus Pope Benedict, and his signature.
(2) New York Times report, text below (link).
(3) Ed Pentin in the National Catholic Register, text below (link). (Note: the final two hyperlinks in the Pentin article may be of interest.)
(1) The Bild report
CONTROVERSIAL LETTERS HAVE SURFACED
Pope Benedict XVI concerned about his Church
By NIKOLAUS HARBUSCH
20.09.2018 – 08:31 Uhr
Five years ago, Pope Benedict XVI (91) resigned.
The abuse scandal sheds a new light on this surprising step. Now shocking letters written by the retired Pope have surfaced that will be highly interesting to church historians.
The letters – which are available to BILD – show that Benedict XVI is deeply concerned about the state of the Church.
The correspondence goes back to November 2017. The letters are addressed to a German cardinal. In an interview, the cardinal had made critical remarks about Benedict’s stepping down.
His main criticism was that the Church had allegedly entered a major crisis because of the Pope’s resignation. Moreover, a resignation by a Pope was unprecedented in Church history and had done serious harm to the Church.
The retired Pope reacted with an angry letter. To the cardinal who had criticized him, he wrote: “I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has inflicted on you and many others. However, for some people and – it seems to me – also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole. By this, a papacy itself is now being devalued and melted into the sorrow about the situation in which the Church currently finds itself.” He severely reprimanded the cardinal: “If you know a better way (referring to the resignation, ed.) and therefore think that you can judge the one chosen by me, please tell me.”
There had indeed been papal resignations in the past, Benedict wrote. One example was Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) who, in 1944, aimed to avoid being “arrested by the Nazis” by stepping down. What is interesting is the comparison to a Pope threatened by the Nazis. Who did Benedict feel threatened by?
“Pray for me that I may not flee for fear of the wolves,” Benedict XVI said at his inauguration. Who are the wolves?
Professor of Philosophy and Vatican expert, Armin Schwibach (53), told BILD: “By ‘the wolves’, he probably meant the network of high-ranking Church dignitaries who have created a system of power, and abuse of power, in the Vatican, and whom he felt unable to cope with.”
Was Benedict even concerned about being poisoned by henchmen of this network? The Spiegel reported in May 2015 that, in October 2012, the president of the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigations allegedly travelled to Rome to review gaps in the food preparation for the Pope.
Even more interesting: When, given the bewildered state of the Church following the Pope’s resignation, the cardinal criticized by the Pope wrote back: “May the Lord help his Church,” Benedict replied once more – and with a remarkable sentence.
He wrote: “Let us rather pray, as you did at the end of your letter, that the Lord will come to the aid of his Church.”
So did the former Pope think that the Church had entered a crisis under his successor, and that only praying would help in this crisis?
Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, is currently facing accusations of having supported a powerful US cardinal despite knowing that Benedict had punished him for sexual offenses.
The editor-in-chief of the Katholische Nachrichtenagentur (Catholic News Agency, KNA), Ludwig Ring Eifel (58), told BILD: “The letters allow for fascinating insights into Benedict XVI’s thinking – he is obviously very concerned about the state of the Church.“
Benedict’s private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein (62), did not want to comment on the letters to BILD.
He recently chose to compare the situation of the Church – shaken by abuse scandals and systematic cover-ups – to the terror attacks of September 11 in New York. The Church, he said, is currently experiencing “its own 9/11.”
(2) Today’s New York Times report on the letters.
The New York Times reports that Bild has given the Times access to the full text of both letters. However, they have not yet published the full texts.
Bild did not give the name of the cardinal to whom Emeritus Pope Benedict was writing the two letters.
The Times names him: Cardinal Walter Brandmueller.
Here is the New York Times report:
In Private Letters, Benedict Rebukes Critics of Pope Francis (link)
By Jason Horowitz
Sept. 20, 2018
ROME — The remarkable letter last month calling on Pope Francis to resign for allegedly shielding an abusive American cardinal also served as a public call to arms for some conservative Catholics who pine for the pontificate of the previous pope, Benedict XVI. For years now, they have carried his name like a battle standard into the ideological trenches.
Benedict apparently would like them to knock it off.
In private letters published on Thursday by the German newspaper Bild, Benedict, who in retirement has remained studiously quiet through the controversies over Francis’ fitness to lead the church, says that the “anger” expressed by some of his staunchest defenders risks tarnishing his own pontificate.
“I can well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my pontificate caused you and many others. But for some — and it seems to me for you as well — the pain has turned to anger, which no longer just affects the abdication but my person and the entirety of my pontificate,” Benedict wrote in a Nov. 23, 2017, letter to Cardinal Walter Brandmüller of Germany. “In this way the pontificate itself is being devalued and conflated with the sadness about the situation of the church today.”
Requests to representatives of Benedict and Cardinal Brandmüller for comment and authentication were not returned early Thursday. Bild provided the letters in their entirety to The Times.
Cardinal Brandmüller is one of the few cardinals who signed a 2016 letter of “dubia” — from the Latin for “doubts” — demanding clarification from Francis about his apparent willingness to open the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, which the signatories argue is against church law.
The dubia letter received worldwide attention and served as a de facto declaration of independence from Francis, and its signatories, first among them the American cardinal Raymond Burke, have enthusiastically embraced the letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, which called on Francis to step down.
Archbishop Viganò claimed that Benedict had imposed sanctions on Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, for sexual misconduct, but that Francis had lifted those penalties. Francis’ defenders say there is no evidence that sanctions were placed on Cardinal McCarrick, who resigned in July, and point to ample evidence that he did not behave as if he were under such limitations. Neither the current pope nor his predecessor has commented.
Part of Archbishop Viganò’s motivation in publishing his letter was to come to the rescue of Benedict, who he felt was unfairly maligned by Italian journalists friendly to Pope Francis, according to Marco Tosatti, the Italian journalist who helped the archbishop draft the letter.
For years, the dissenting cardinals and their supporters have sought to align their cause to Benedict, who promised to remain “hidden to the world” after his 2013 resignation, which he attributed to his waning health and energy. Francis, 81, has made congenial visits to see Benedict, 91, creating white-robed photo opportunities that give the impression of a total lack of tension.
But Benedict, the first pope to resign in almost 600 years, refused to fully renounce the papacy, taking the title “pope emeritus” and continuing to live in the Vatican. “The ‘always’ is also a ‘forever’ — there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this,” he said during his last general audience.
For many supporters of Francis, Benedict’s status casts an unwelcome shadow over Francis and gives license and comfort to his enemies, though the former pontiff has kept a very low profile. Defenders of Benedict say that by living away from the public eye behind Vatican walls, he is actually avoiding the creation of a rival power center.
But in private, even Benedict’s most adamant supporters express frustration with him for quitting and allowing the election of Francis, a more pastoral, less doctrinaire pontiff who they think is ruining the church. They blame Benedict for lacking fight and throwing in the towel in the face of mounting pressure inside the Vatican, especially after he received a 300-page dossier by three cardinals that many in the Vatican believe details an extensive gay lobby within the church.
In an interview in October of last year with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cardinal Brandmüller expressed that frustration publicly.
“The figure of ‘pope emeritus’ does not exist in the entire history of the church,” he said. “The fact that a pope comes along and topples a 2,000-year-old tradition bowled over not just us cardinals.”
He said that he had an interesting dinner party to celebrate a German carnival holiday on the day of the pope’s retirement in 2013. “We were just having our aperitif and were waiting for a missing guest when a journalist called with the question: Have you heard already? I thought the news was a carnival joke.”
Benedict, who is soft-spoken but can also be prickly, was not amused. He wrote in his letter to Cardinal Brandmüller that “Out of this conflation a new agitation is gradually being generated,” which he said could inspire more books like The Abdication, by Fabrizio Grasso, which argues that having one or more popes emeriti could fragment papal authority.
(In his book, Mr. Grasso wrote, “Even for those with little imagination, it’s not hard to imagine a possible near future with more than one emeritus pope and, consequentially, an exclusive papal club, which could be no other than a proto-parliament of the Vatican State.”)
Benedict wrote, “All this fills me with concern, and it was precisely because of this that the end of your F.A.Z. interview so unsettled me, because it would ultimately promote the same mood.”
The letter was his second in an exchange with Cardinal Brandmüller. The first, dated Nov. 9, 2017, was even sharper, coming as an immediate reaction to the German cardinal’s newspaper interview.
“Eminence!” he began. “You said that with ‘pope emeritus,’ I had created a figure that had not existed in the whole history of the church. You know very well, of course, that popes have abdicated, albeit very rarely. What were they afterward? Pope emeritus? Or what else?”
He cited the case of Pius XII, who feared capture by the Nazis and prepared a resignation in case that occurred.
“As you know, Pius XII had prepared a declaration in case the Nazis were to arrest him, that from the moment of the arrest he would no longer be pope but once again cardinal,” Benedict wrote. “In my case it would certainly not have been sensible to simply claim a return to being cardinal. I would then have been constantly as exposed to the media as a cardinal is — even more so because people would have seen in me the former pope.”
He added, “Whether on purpose or not, this could have had difficult consequences, especially in the context of the current situation.”
It is not clear what Benedict meant by “the current situation,” but some have interpreted it to mean the dismay among many of his followers about Francis. Benedict seemed to be saying that as a former pope, he was protected from such politics.
“With ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope,” he wrote. “If you know of a better way, and believe that you can judge the one I chose, please tell me.”
After Cardinal Brandmüller apparently begged Benedict’s forgiveness and explained how much pain his resignation had caused him and like-minded conservatives, the pope emeritus wrote the second letter. He concluded it by saying, “Let’s pray, as you did with the end of your letter, that the Lord comes to the aid of his church. With my apostolic blessing I am, Your Benedict XVI.”
Katrin Bennhold contributed reporting from Berlin.
(3) Pentin’s article.
Here is an article by Edward Pentin for the National Catholic Register going over many of the same points mentioned in the New York Times article. But it is interesting because Pentin focuses on the question of Benedict’s resignation.
SEP. 19, 2018
Benedict XVI Discusses His Resignation in Newly Published Letters (link)
The words of the Pope Emeritus from November 2017 show he is aware of pain his resignation caused, and the sorrow people feel about the current situation facing the Church.
By Edward Pentin
A German newspaper today published two letters Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote last November which give a glimpse of how he views his resignation and what many see as turmoil in the Church that has followed his unexpected departure.
Bild newspaper reports that Benedict XVI wrote the letters in response to a cardinal but it doesn’t name him.
However, The New York Times says it is Cardinal Walter Brandmüller who had just given an interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung critical of Benedict’s resignation.
Cardinal Brandmüller, a former president the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, had told the newspaper the “Pope Emeritus” title never existed “in all of Church history” and that Benedict’s resignation had “knocked us cardinals sideways, and not only us.”
In one of his letters of reply, the Pope Emeritus shows that he is aware of the strife the Church has faced since he resigned, but is also concerned that some of the anger and frustration is being directed at him and his pontificate.
“I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has inflicted on you and many others,” Benedict writes in a letter dated Nov. 23, 2017, according to The New York Times. “However, for some people and – it seems to me – also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole.
“In this way,” Benedict adds, “a papacy itself is now being devalued and melted into the sorrow about the situation in which the Church currently finds itself.”
In the first letter, dated Nov. 9, 2017, Benedict was quite terse with the cardinal over his criticism of the title and life after resignation, reported the Times: “With ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope,” he wrote. “If you know of a better way, and believe that you can judge the one I chose, please tell me.”
Bild reported that Benedict refers in one of the letters to the Venerable Pope Pius XII and his contingency plan to step down in 1944 to avoid being “arrested by the Nazis.”
The German newspaper asked: “What did Benedict feel threatened by?” and added that a clue might be found in his words at his inauguration in 2005: “Pray for me that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”
Cardinal Brandmüller responded to Benedict, referring to the current confusion in the Church, by saying: “May the Lord help his Church.”
The Pope Emeritus replied in agreement: “Let us rather pray, as you did at the end of your letter, that the Lord will come to the aid of his Church.”
Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11, 2013, and relinquished office on Feb. 28 of that year. He became the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 who did so in order to end the Western Schism, and the first to do so on his own initiative since Celestine V in 1294.
He said in his resignation speech that he had chosen to step down because he had come to “the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
He also said that because today’s world is “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith,” he believed “both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
Cardinal Brandmüller, one of the four cardinals to submit dubia to Pope Francis questioning aspects of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has long been a supporter of Joseph Ratzinger, but also the most vocal critic of his decision to resign.
In 2016 he wrote an article calling for a law to define the status of the ex-pope and concluding that the resignation of the Pope “is possible, and it has been done, but it is to be hoped that it may never happen again.” An extended version of the article appeared in the periodical, The Jurist.
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