Andrea Riccardi explains what Benedict XVI. to resign: Cap that he could no longer govern and did not want to be exploited. He anticipated his decision on Napolitano
I was just finishing the biography of John Paul II and had a conversation about it with Benedict XVI, Wojtyla’s main collaborator.
They held him in high esteem: the last theologian of the Second Vatican Council said about him.
Ratzinger, a recognized European intellectual (he was a member of the Acadmie Franaise), incorporated Wojtyla’s mystical and charismatic intuitions into his teaching.
The cardinal admired him: he lifted continents, he wrote about him. Even if he did not share everything, such as the interreligious prayer of Assisi, but also the last periods of his pontificate, marked by an illness experienced in the face of the world.
My conversation with Ratzinger once again revealed to me his cordial and equal attitude. He asked questions and showed great listening skills, like someone who feels he can always learn and know little about life. Nonetheless, it was timely. I saw him at a lunch with the poor in Sant’Egidio, meeting people from different countries and reminding everyone of the situation in their own country.
In conversation with him I noticed his relationship management in addition to the speeches. He made me wait in the hall for more than half an hour. It wasn’t a problem for me. When I visited, Per was disturbed: he exaggeratedly apologized for the wait and mentioned the cardinal in the audience in front of me as a bit pushy and not keeping to appointments.
It struck me: a person like the Pope has many opportunities to refuse. But being shy and gentle, it wasn’t easy for him to have relationships, especially with bullies or insensitive people.
When he came to the Curia in 1981 as Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith, he shared a project with Wojtyla: getting out of the crisis of the Church, being as faithful as possible to the Second Vatican Council, continuing the reception of the Council. He said to me: No to a structural reform, but to a spiritual reform.
Ratzinger spoke to me about Wojtyla’s government, which sometimes acted outside the institutional channels, and about the Secretariat of State: there is a constant dialectic between person and institution, even with the Secretariat of State, which he nonetheless valued. Wojtyla came from outside. At Paul VI. and Pius XII. was it different: They came from the secretariat.
Benedict also came from the Curia. But he did not feel like a curial and led a private life.
He never had an extrainstitutional government like Wojtyla, or in other words Francis: he used the Curia, but he felt its weight.
Shouldn’t a sick pope like Wojtyla resign? In retrospect – said Benedict – we see that it was a catechesis of pain. It was a kind of government. It is ruled by suffering. But not always possible; You can only after such a long pontificate. After so much active life, a painful break was just the thing. Even in a world where human suffering is hidden.
Benedetto did not like to show the disease. When the question of resignation came up, Wojtyla replied: Jesus did not come down from the cross. Ratzinger’s choice in a completely different sense.
The health reasons don’t explain it. The awareness of not being able to lead the church weighed heavily – in my opinion – also because he was exposed to various pressures.
He absolutely did not want people or circles to take his hand in a government that he considered his personal responsibility.
So he gave the office to the cardinals, believing that the spirit would indicate the new pope.
On February 4, 2013, at a concert in the Vatican, he warned President Napolitano of his impending resignation. Faced with a baffled president and some of his objections, he seems to have come to the conclusion: I can’t take it anymore.
In conversation with Ratzinger, we also talked about Wojtyla’s origins and his Polish messianism: it was genuine patriotism that developed hope from a suffering people. Wojtyla – he added – spoke of a new Advent and a time of joy for Christianity. I have seen him in pain but not sad, he concluded.
Benedict XVI shared with Wojtyla the belief that if Christianity had lost Europe, it would have been a tragedy for the entire Church in the world. I was not, like Francis, a pope who comes from afar. German, yes Bavarian, lover of Rome and Italy, of French culture, he moved freely in the political and intellectual debates of the continent.
I told him about a conversation I had with Wojtyla many years ago. I had expressed to him the idea that the PCI was different from sister parties. Wojtyla looked at me helplessly and critically. Benedetto smiled and surprisingly said: No, she was right. The PCI has a character like Gramsci in its history that made it different. And he started talking about Gramsci at length.
He was a strong man, if shy, almost condescending. The secretary, Don Georg, said to me: Nothing is more certain than the decision of the myths. He didn’t have the boldness of Wojtyla, who called the religions to Assisi in 1986: for Ratzinger there were misunderstandings, but also pure intentions. However, he believed that religions should be instruments of peace. In fact, he returned to Assisi for the twenty-five years of Wojtylian prayer to celebrate its anniversary. This was his sense of continuity and fidelity to Church history.
Ratzinger was a man of faith and a great intellectual, a complex, contradictory and multifaceted European despite his linearity. For this reason, as can be seen after his death, despite the ten years he has spent in silence, his character still has questions and interests.
January 2, 2023 (change January 2, 2023 | 12:28)
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