In part 1 of this series, I pointed to evidence drawing from Pope Benedict’s own words during and until a year after his resignation, pointing to how said resignation was a completely free, uncoerced act from the former pontiff.
Since then, Pope Benedict has chosen to keep himself away from the public eye. Conspiracy theorists believe this to be due to him being isolated and gagged in a kind of “house arrest“. Catholics who don’t buy into conspiracy theories believe this to be due to him living the life he said he would take: a life of service to the Church through prayer and meditation.
I have argued that, had Pope Benedict been completely silent, then the Qui tacet consentire principle would apply. In other words, if he was silent, consent should be presumed.
But since this won’t satisfy the conspiracy theorist, I must point out that not only has Pope Benedict *not* been completely silent all these years, he has indeed spoken favorably of Pope Francis on several occasions. And he is not gagged, since he has written letters and given speeches since then. Finally, he is not under house arrest, for he has made public appearances, like this one before a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, no less. Again, if he wanted to end the conspiracy, that would be the best place to do it.
But it was in 2016 that Pope Benedict was more outspoken since his resignation. In that year, he joined world-renowned journalist Peter Seewald to publish a new book-interview called “The Last Testament”. It is an excellent book, which I vividly suggest should be read in full. This book-interview focuses, understandably, a whole lot on the topic of Benedict’s resignation (in fact, it devotes a full chapter to it). I shall quote here the Pope Emeritus’ most enlightening answers.
“[Peter Seewald] Nevertheless the Italian media speculated that the true background to your resignation is to be found in the Vatileaks affair, not only in the Paolo Gabriele case, but also in the financial problems and intrigues among the Curia. Ultimately you were so shocked at the 300-page investigation report into these things that you could see no other way out other than to make space for a successor.
[Benedict] No, that is not right, not at all. On the contrary, the Vatileaks matter was completely resolved. I said while it was still happening – I believe it was to you – that one is not permitted to step back when things are going wrong, but only when things are at peace. I could resign because calm had returned to this situation. It was not a case of retreating under pressure or feeling that things couldn’t be coped with.
[Peter Seewald] In some newspapers there was even talk of blackmail and conspiracy.
[Benedict] That’s all complete nonsense. No, it’s actually a straightforward matter. I have to say on this that a man – for whatever reason – thought he had to create a scandal to clean up the Church. But no one has tried to blackmail me. If that had been attempted I would not have gone, since you are not permitted to leave because you’re under pressure. It’s also not the case that I would have bartered or whatever. On the contrary, the moment had – thanks to be God – a sense of having overcome the difficulties and a mood of peace. A mood in which one really could confidently pass the reins to the next person.
[Peter Seewald] Have you ever regretted the resignation even for a minute?
[Benedict] No! No, no. Every day I see that it was right.
[Peter Seewald] So you haven’t once yet said to yourself, maybe . . .
[Benedict] No, definitely not. It was considered long enough and spoken about with the Lord.
[Peter Seewald] Were there any aspects to it which you had not thought of? Something which perhaps only became clear in retrospect?
[Peter Seewald] So you also considered whether or not there might in future be legitimate demands against a Pope calling for him to resign?
[Benedict] Of course you are not permitted to yield to demands. I therefore emphasized in my speech that I was acting freely. One is not allowed to go away if one is running away. One cannot submit to coercion. One can only turn away when no one has demanded it. And no one demanded it of me during my time as a Pope. No one. It came as a complete surprise to everybody.
[Peter Seewald] Then how, taking leave of the Curia, could you promise your successor absolute obediece without knowing who it would be?
[Benedict] The Pope is the Pope, regardless of who it is
[Peter Seewald] So you do not see any kind of break with your pontificate?
[Benedict] No. I mean, one can of course misinterpret in places, with the intention of saying that everything has been turned on its head now. If one isolates things, takes them out of context, one can construct opposites, but not if one looks at the whole. There may be a different emphasis, of course, but no opposition”
Do bear in mind that this was not the first book-interview Peter Seewald published with Benedict. He published books of a similar format from interviews when Benedict was the reigning pope (“Light of the World”, 2010) and even before he was elected pope (“Salt of the Earth”, 1996). These book-interviews were instrumental on Peter Seewald’s return to the Catholic faith, for which he publicly thanks and praises Benedict, with whom he became good friends. It is highly unlikely this journalist would be a part in any conspiracy to overthrow him.
Also in 2016, the Pope Emeritus published an interview in the Osservatore Romano (the full text, translated into English, can be read here), where he supports Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy, which is a major point of contention for his critics. If Benedict thought that mercy was being misused by Pope Francis, he could certainly have taken the opportunity to issue his correcting view on the topic. But he didn’t. Instead, he says this:
“For me it is a “sign of the times” the fact that the idea of the mercy of God should become more and more central and dominant — starting from Sister Faustina, whose visions in various ways reflect deeply the image of God held by the men of today and their desire for the divine goodness.
Pope John Paul II was deeply impregnated by this impulse, even if this did not always emerge explicitly.
But it is certainly not by chance that his last book, published just before his death, speaks of God’s mercy.
Starting from the experiences which, from the earliest years of life, exposed him to all of the cruel acts men can perform, he affirms that mercy is the only true and ultimate effective reaction against the power of evil.
Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, only with mercy do evil and violence end.
Pope Francis is totally in agreement with this line.
His pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy.
It is mercy that moves us towards God, while justice frightens us before Him.
In my view, this makes clear that, under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God.
He is waiting for mercy.”
I again suggest a full reading, where Pope Benedict fascinatingly tries to resolve the apparent tension between God’s justice and His mercy, but always preferentially on the side of mercy.
In 2016 also, Pope Francis participated in a celebration in honor of Benedict’s priestly ordination’s 65th anniversary. Again, we can see the Pope Emeritus commending Francis, this time for being “his home” and “his protection”.
Another anniversary happened in Apr 16th 2017, when Benedict was seen celebrating his 90 springs with relatives and close friends with a great jug of beer. Hardly a prisioner’s stance.
So far, the evidence seems to be piling up in favor of Pope Benedict’s free resignation and his affection for Pope Francis. But didn’t traditionalists bring up a public intervention from Benedict where he attacked Francis, by blaming him for capsizing the boat of the Church? I will deal with that on the last instalment of this article series. Stay tuned.
Photo credits: Reuters (Pope Francis greeting Benedict at the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination)