Benedict’s gesture has been interpreted as an indication of a willingness to resign that would occur several years later.
However, it was not like that, Gänswein reveals. He explains that Benedict XVI wanted to do an act of homage to his predecessor. So he placed a pallium, which Archbishop Piero Marini, at the time master of liturgical celebrations for Pope John Paul II, had sewn. This pallium fell uncomfortably on the shoulders of Benedict XVI, who thus took advantage of the opportunity to pay homage and donate it. The decision also tells much about how Benedict XVI dealt with the issues: He sought elegant solutions without offending anyone while trying to unite everyone.
However, the details of the decision to resign are more dramatic. Gänswein explains how Benedict XVI had already begun withdrawing into more profound prayer after his trip to Cuba and Mexico in 2012. There were indications that he was considering resignation, which triggered some questions asked by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then secretary of state. But such a decision was inconceivable.
When Benedict XVI reached the decision, there was no way to change his mind, Gänswein reports. Bertone and Gänswein only managed to convince him not to make the announcement during his annual Christmas greeting to the Curia on Dec. 21, 2012, but to postpone it a bit. If the announcement had been made on that day, and the pontificate had ended on Jan. 25, Christmas would not have been celebrated, Gänswein writes.
In Gänswein’s story, Benedict XVI emerges as an ironic man — learned, methodical, and brilliant — but above all as a man of faith. Naturally introverted, Benedict XVI withdrew into himself and silence when there were important issues. And he prayed. He prayed more intensely. He prayed hard. He did so moved by an unshakable faith and the need to live and understand the meaning of events.
As John Paul II was dying, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became increasingly reflective. Finally, when it became clear that he was being thought of for the succession, he almost withdrew. But then, after prayer, after having matured the decisions, Ratzinger was a serene, convinced, and determined man.
Ratzinger was also loyal, close to his collaborators, careful not to harm any of his friends. Benedict XVI sought harmony — a fact that emerges clearly from Gänswein’s account.
The Sarah case
The search for harmony can also be seen in the Sarah case, or “Pasticciaccio Sarah,” as Gänswein defines it. The reference is to Cardinal Sarah’s book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” which also included an essay by Benedict XVI. The essay was dedicated to the question of priestly celibacy, and it was believed that it would come out after the publication of the postsynodal exhortation Querida Amazonia in February 2020.
However, it came out earlier, on Jan. 15, 2020, because Pope Francis had only approved the text on Dec. 27, 2019, creating the impression that the book was intended to influence the pope’s reflections on the Amazon Synod.
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Such a motive wasn’t true, Gänswein writes. Nor was it true that Benedict XVI had been informed that he would appear as co-author.
Gänswein explains the situation, recalling that Sarah asked Benedict XVI to sign a press release to defend the operation. Gänswein was against it; Benedict XVI took time to think and then drew up a statement deferring the decision to his superiors. And Pope Francis let it be known that it was better not to publish.
At that point, tweets arrived from Sarah’s account, claiming that Benedict XVI had read and approved the drafts. There also was a dramatic confrontation between Gänswein and the cardinal in which the latter blamed Nicolas Diat, the journalist who had written several books with Sarah and who was described as the “director of the work.”
Gänswein’s account reveals much resentment over the situation. But it also includes a long letter that Benedict XVI himself sent to Pope Francis, published almost in its entirety, explaining his position and role in the affair and to clear the air of any possible idea of an opposition between Francis and the pope emeritus.
Benedict, La Civiltà Cattolica interview, and the Jesuits
Benedict XVI’s letter to Pope Francis is not the only unpublished work by the pope emeritus included in the book. Pope Francis spoke in 2013 to the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica and sent the notebook used with the interview to Benedict XVI, asking him for comments. Benedict did so by writing a long letter to the pope, dated Sept. 27, 2013. In it, Benedict XVI insists on two aspects: that it is necessary to fight against the “concrete and practical denial of the living God” accomplished through abortion and euthanasia, and being aware of gender ideology, defined as manipulation.