The silent reform of Benedict XVI's papacy

Pope Benedict XVI Holds His Final General Audience Feb 27 2013 Credit Mazur wwwthepapalvisitorguk CC BY NC SA 20 CNA 2 13 15 Pope Benedict XVI Holds His Final General Audience, Feb. 27, 2013. | Mazur/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

In his new book on Benedict XVI, Vatican journalist Marco Mancini argues that while the retired pontiff became known for his shocking resignation three years ago, his real legacy began far earlier.

"Unfortunately, we remember Benedict for the great gesture of the renunciation, but if we go on remembering Benedict only for that act, it would not be doing a service to truth of the facts," Mancini told CNA.

Neither would it be a service to history, to his pontificate or his person, "because he really in eight years confronted the totality of the themes and the emergencies that the Catholic Church lived."

Benedict XVI's Feb. 11, 2013, announcement of his resignation from the papacy – exactly three years ago today – hit the Church "like a lightning bolt in a clear blue sky," said one cardinal who was present in the room when the pontiff stunned the Vatican and the rest of the world with his decision.

But in his book "Benedetto XVI: Un Papa Totale," translating roughly as "Benedict XVI: a Complete Pope," Mancini, 33, said Benedict's most memorable act was not his resignation, but everything he did to carry the Church through the many difficult and varied crises it endured during his eight-year reign.

The book, which as of now is only available in Italian, was presented at the Vatican's Teutonic College Feb. 5. Speakers at the event included Mancini, Angela Ambrogetti – editor of CNA's Italian edition ACI Stampa – as well as Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, prefect of the Pontifical Household.

Archbishop Gaenswein told CNA that in his opinion, Benedict XVI's greatest legacy "is yet to be discovered," but that an important one we can see now is "the personal and theological witness of a man who is a great theologian, but who did theology in a very, very humble way."

The "silent reform" Benedict carried out is centered on the way he guided and governed the Church, "with clarity, but above all with his fine theology," the archbishop said.

Mancini, who writes for ACI Stampa, is a former sports broadcaster, but began his work as a journalist in 2003 when he started writing for the Italian agency "Area," reporting primarily on internal politics, particularly in the Vatican.

He has covered both the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI, as well as the 2013 conclave that named Pope Francis as Benedict XVI's successor. In 2013 he co-authored a book with his colleague Andrea Gagliarducci titled "La quaresima della Chiesa," meaning "The Lent of the Church."

In his interview with CNA, Mancini said that the original plan for his book on Benedict was that it be released for the 10 year anniversary of his election to the papacy, but that the drafting took longer than expected.

Despite the fact it came out just before the three-year anniversary of Benedict XVI's announcement of his decision to resign, the book "doesn't seek to remember the renunciation, it seeks remember his pontificate in its totality."

"I tried to synthesize in 100 pages the pontificate of Benedict XVI, which is impossible. But I tried to underline the aspects that are perhaps less known to the greater public about the pontificate, from relativism, to his ecumenical commitment."

A total of 96 pages, the book offers a nutshell overview of how Benedict XVI fought against scourges in the Church and in society such as the growing presence of relativism, the economic crisis, pedophilia, increasing global hostility toward Christians and the first "Vatileaks" scandal.

It also highlights Benedict XVI's many efforts in favor of ecumenical dialogue, particularly with the Orthodox and Anglican Churches, as well as his emphasis on caring for the environment and promoting sustainable development and business practices.

Mancini also notes that Benedict was the one to start the current process of reform and "cleaning" within the Roman Curia, which Pope Francis has continued, particularly on financial matters, the streamlining of the marriage annulment process and dialogue with the Muslim community.  

"Financial transparency and pedophilia are the two pillars of the process of reform that Benedict set up in the Church. He started," Mancini said.

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"(And) fortunately his successor has carried this process of reform forward," he added, noting that while on his way back from Africa in November, Pope Francis himself said that Benedict is the one who started the reform.

On the papal plane from Bangui to Rome Nov. 30, 2015, Francis took a question from a journalist on corruption in the Vatican. In his response, the Pope noted how on Good Friday in 2005, 13 days before St. John Paul II died, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken about "the filth in the Church."

"He denounced it first," Francis said, noting that Ratzinger spoke about the same thing again shortly before the conclave, "and we elected him for that freedom in saying things."

In his comments to CNA, Mancini noted that while Benedict did a lot in terms of beginning the current process of reform, it wasn't all smooth sailing – he also faced resistance, as Francis does today.

"When there is an idea of reform, whatever it is, there is always resistance. Pope Benedict faced a lot of resistance and a lot of problems," Mancini said.

One of the toughest things Benedict had to face immediately after his election was a Curia that Mancini described as "too independent" due to John Paul II's declining health in the last years of his papacy.

"The problem, according to me, is that toward the end of the pontificate of John Paul II – he was an extraordinary Pope, absolutely extraordinary – the problem is that his physical limitations allowed him to govern very little."

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What resulted is that when Benedict XVI arrived, he had to put things back into order, so "the work of reform and order began right away."

In addition to Benedict's efforts in creating financial transparency and accountability in abuse cases, he was also the one who first instituted a commission to study the streamlining of the marriage annulment process.

The commission finished its work and handed it in, but since Benedict resigned, he never made a move on it. Francis himself picked the project back up, forming a new commission to get an updated study of the issue, which resulted in the new process that went into place Dec. 10.

In terms of the resistance Benedict faced, Mancini said he believes it is the same "lobby" that is resisting Francis' process of reform.

"I think there is a lot of continuity between the two, whether it's among whoever tries to hinder the process of reform, or the way of reforming the Church," he said, because Pope Francis "is continuing the same work that Pope Benedict started."

"So I realize in speaking with many people, there's a need to thank Benedict more for what he did for the Catholic Church."

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