Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Benedict, A Year On

Simply put, it was the biggest story the beat had ever seen... and as if to underscore the point, a year ago tonight – hours after Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy – lightning struck the dome of St Peter's.

In the rush toward a Conclave the news suddenly kicked off – and then a second tectonic shift in the choice of the 266th Pope – it can be said in retrospect that the first renunciation of the papacy since before Europeans settled the Americas wasn't absorbed as the magnitude of the moment deserved. And for whatever changes have already come in the reign of Francis, even more in the offing, Joseph Ratzinger's departure still makes for the office's most significant reform in centuries.

Since stepping away, the now Pope-emeritus has broadly held to his plan for his retirement to be spent "hidden from the world." From his base in the former Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens, Benedict – who'll be 87 in April – is said to spend his days with the books he once called his "old friends," still engaged in theological study, though he's not expected to write again. A midday walk in the Vatican Gardens is often followed by time at the piano. Company does come, but the invitations tend to be limited to a relatively tight circle of longtime allies, who can be sufficiently trusted to not leak what he says.

The mail is another story, however. A lengthy letter Benedict wrote an atheist author last November was published in La Repubblica with his consent, and in yesterday's edition of the leftist daily, it emerged that Ratzinger had resumed correspondence with Hans Kung, his colleague-turned-rival of half a century, who he famously hosted for dinner months after his election.

Reading from a note dated January 24th in a Repubblica interview, Kung quoted Benedict as saying that "I'm grateful to be linked by a great identity [sic] of views and a friendship of the heart with Pope Francis. I now see supporting his pontificate in prayer as my only and final work."

For his part, Kung lauded his old friend for "thinking more of the destiny of the church than of any regard for himself."

Even as the notion of a new book from his pen has repeatedly been nixed, one forthcoming volume should be of high interest: Peter Seewald, the once atheist German journalist who became Ratzinger's favorite interviewer over the course of three book-length conversations (most recently in 2010), is set to release a biography of the 265th Pope. According to Italian reports, the work will be published by the LEV, the Vatican publishing house. While Seewald returned to Castel Gandolfo to roll more tape with Benedict in summer 2012, those exchanges remain unpublished.

To mark the anniversary, Ratzinger's closest aide – Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who remains Benedict's live-in private secretary as well as prefect of the Papal Household – has been on a media blitz which has included defenses of the often-misunderstood, frequently-fraught last pontificate. In a weekend conversation with Reuters, Don Giorgio said that for B16, "the measure of one’s work, of one’s way of doing things, is not what the mass media write but what is just before God and before conscience.... And, if it is fair, history in the end will reflect this."

Having regained his old form after a rough patch immediately following his departure from Peter's Chair, Benedict is only known to have left the Vatican once since his return in May, going to Rome's Gemelli Policlinic in early January to visit his brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger, who had fallen ill while visiting with his lone surviving sibling. (A German TV special to mark the Papstbruder-emeritus' 90th birthday last month featured a brief chat between Benedict and the program's host.)

Likened by his successor to "a wise grandpop living at home," the retired pontiff swapped Christmas visits with Francis, who treated him to lunch at the Domus. Knowing his predecessor's special affection for the papacy's "Camp David" in the Alban Hills, last summer Francis reportedly invited Benedict to stay at Castel Gandolfo whenever he wished, but Papa Ratzinger declined, instead encouraging the new pontiff to make it his own. (Francis, of course, himself shirked the villa, preferring to spend the summer in Rome's oppressive heat. The move drained the Alban village of much of the Pope-driven summer tourism on which the local economy heavily relies.)

When it comes to drawing back, though, perhaps no commitment was tougher for Benedict to give up than the Schülerkreis, Ratzinger's annual summer seminar and reunion with his doctoral students, whose last edition took place without him for the first time in nearly four decades. As the late-August gathering was still held at Castel – its 2013 focus on "The question of God in the context of secularization" – the Doktorvater welcomed his students to the Vatican for a morning Mass.

The homily that day made for Benedict's most extensive public utterance since resigning, and perhaps the most pointed. A true Christian must "the last in the opinion of the world," he said, because "he who in this world and [its] history is perhaps pushed ahead and arrives in the first places must know he is in danger, he must look at the Lord more, measure himself to Him, measure himself to the responsibility of the other, he must become one who serves, one who in reality is seated at the feet of the other."

Going on to note that "Christ, the Son of God, came down to serve us and this is the essence of God, which consists in bending down to us," the Pope-emeritus added that humiliation is "elevation," making "the Cross... in reality, the true exaltation."

As most of B16's few post-resignation appearances have been alongside his successor, he's widely expected to be present with Francis on 27 April, as the Pope canonizes Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.

To mark the milestone of this epochal moment, meanwhile, following are the full video of Benedict's resignation announcement with its English translation, and that of the statement given immediately afterward by the Cardinal-Dean Angelo Sodano.

* * *

Dear Brothers, 

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. 

However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, 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.
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is. 
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer. 
...and Sodano:

Your Holiness, beloved and revered Successor of Peter,
Your moving message has resounded in this room like a lightning bolt in a calm sky.

We've listened to you with a sense of shock, rather in total disbelief. In your words we noticed the great affection that you have always had for the Holy Church of God, for this Church that you have loved so much. 

Allow me to tell you, in the name of this apostolic cenacle - the College of Cardinals - in the name of your dear collaborators, let me tell you that we are closer to you than ever before, just as we have been in these eight luminous years of your pontificate.
On 19 April 2005, if I remember right, at the end of the Conclave I asked you, with trembling voice after all our years together, "Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?" And you did not take long - albeit with trepidation - to respond by saying that you accepted with trust in the Lord and in the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church.
With Mary, that day you gave your "yes," and so began your luminous pontificate with the plow of continuity, that continuity of which you have spoken to us so often in the history of the Church – continuity with your 265 predecessors in the Chair of Peter, in the course of two thousand years of history, from the Apostle Peter, humble fisherman of Galilee, right through to the great popes of the last century, from St. Pius X to Blessed John Paul II.
Holy Father, before February 28 – the day which, as you have said, you seek to put the word 'fine' [the end] over your service as pontiff, one given with so much love, with humility – before February 28, we will have a way to better express our feelings, so will many pastors and faithful throughout the world, as will so many people of good will along with the authorities of many countries. In this month to come, too, we will have the joy of hearing your shepherd's voice on Ash Wednesday, then on Thursday, with the clergy of Rome, in the Angelus of these Sundays, at the Wednesday audiences; there will thus be many opportunities still to hear your fatherly voice....
Even beyond these, your mission will continue onward: you have said that you will always be close to us with your witness and your prayers. Sure as the stars in the sky always continue to shine, so the star of your pontificate will always shine in our midst.
We are close to you, Holy Father – bless us.