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Benedict rejects rumors on why he resigned as “simply absurd”

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24, 2012. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service
Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24, 2012. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24, 2012. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) As the anniversary of his surprising resignation approaches, Pope Benedict XVI has rejected as “simply absurd” the speculation that he was forced to step down, and he said he still wears the distinctive white papal cassock for “purely practical reasons.”

“At the moment of my resignation there were no other clothes available,” Benedict wrote in a brief letter to an Italian journalist that was published on Wednesday (Feb. 26).

The emeritus pope also said that he kept the name Benedict, rather than reverting to his birth name of Joseph Ratzinger, because it was a simple solution.

Rumors that this signaled he remained something of a “shadow pope” to his successor, Pope Francis, were “another case of completely unfounded speculations being made.”

The same goes for reports that he was pushed to resign because of scandals in the Vatican.

“There isn’t the slightest doubt about the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry,” Benedict wrote to Andrea Tornielli, a veteran Vatican reporter with La Stampa newspaper.

“The only condition for the validity is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations about the invalidity of my resignation are simply absurd.”

Benedict, who is 86 and frail, said last Feb. 11 that he intended to resign because “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” — meaning his role as the 264th successor to St. Peter.

His resignation took effect on Feb. 28, making him the first pope in 600 years to retire rather than die in office. Benedict left the Vatican for the papal summer residence outside Rome until the College of Cardinals elected a successor, which they did on March 13, choosing Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who took the name Francis.

But Benedict’s decision to keep his papal name and white clothing and to return to live in a converted monastery inside the Vatican walls led to concerns and speculation that his presence would raise doubts about the authority of the current pope.

In his letter to Tornielli, Benedict also confirmed that he had written, in a letter to Swiss theologian Hans Kung, a longtime friend and intellectual rival, that he was “bound by a great identity of views and a heartfelt friendship with Pope Francis” and that he sees “my last and final job to support his pontificate in prayer.”

“Professor Kung quoted the content of my letter to him word for word and correctly,” Benedict wrote. He concluded by saying that he hoped he had answered Tornielli’s questions in “a clear and adequate way.”

There have been persistent reports that Benedict was forced to step down because of the many scandals and controversies in the Roman Curia that had plagued his papacy in its final years.

Chief among them was the so-called Vatileaks crisis, when internal memos passed to the media by the pope’s own valet detailed infighting and intrigue in the papal court. There were also sex and money scandals involving Vatican officials and workers that raised the specter that church leaders were subject to blackmail.

A Frontline documentary that premiered Tuesday (Feb. 25) on PBS, titled “Secrets of the Vatican,” recounts these and other scandals and asks whether Francis will be able to clean house as the cardinals who elected him hope. A Catholic News Service review of the program said it had some good material but “turns out to be, in large part, both sloppy and one-sided.”

Tornielli said he wrote to Benedict on Feb. 16 this year about the rumors over why he resigned and received a response two days later.

Benedict’s letter is the latest example that the former pope will not remain entirely “hidden from the world,” as he put it last year. He is in good health, say many of the visitors who meet with him at his Vatican residence, and he keeps up a steady correspondence with friends and those who write to him.

He has participated in a number of private events, as well, and then he attended the service in St. Peter’s Basilica at which Pope Francis created his first batch of new cardinals last Saturday (Feb. 22). It was Benedict’s first public appearance at a liturgy and occasioned much comment inside the basilica and among church pundits.

But it was Francis who invited Benedict to take part, and the former pope insisted on sitting in a chair in front of the altar with the cardinals. He also doffed his white skullcap in a sign of respect and deference when Pope Francis came over to greet him, and — as he noted in the letter to Tornielli — he does not wear the short cape or other accoutrements that are signs of the papal office.

Benedict’s appearance at Vatican events will not become a regular occurrence, and “this does not in any way signify that he is, so to speak, getting back in the game,” Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict’s longtime personal aide, told The Washington Post.

He said the two popes have become friends, and he said Benedict is not envious of Francis’ popularity “because he sees that celebrity as helping the faithful.”

“Pope Francis’ style is quite different, though that doesn’t mean that the content is better,” Gaenswein said. “But his style created much interest among the faithful and also outside of the church.”


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • The former Pope is not telling the truth.
    Imagine the rich irony in that?

    The Vatileaks revealed that the institution is
    rife with scandals, male prostitutes and sexual trysts.

  • Pope Joseph Ratzinger would do better to abide by his original plan to fade from church view. Of course, his choice to live in the Vatican gardens was not to “overshadow” his successor, right? I think Francis is a bigger man than for Ratzinger to succeed as a shadow governor.

    Between his mouthpieces Georg Ganswein, whom Ratzinger neatly elevated from a monsignor to an archbishop the month before he publicly announced his intention to resign, no doubt both of them knowing that intention full well already, to his selected mouthpieces to pass on his remarks, Pope Emeritus Ratzinger, as Hans Kung refers to him, typically refuses to really fade away and allow his successor to function without his overbearing shadow.

    It would be foolish to think otherwise of an autocrat like Ratzinger, one who presumed to dictate how others think, speak, write, and act–except when they’re involved in sexually abusing our young people. He shut up and/or fired, even excommunicated, those with whom he disagreed. Ratzinger pleased his predecessor autocrat, John Paul II, so well and was promoted so steadily for so long that it was a given he would replace John Paul when he died–even though Ratzinger coyly demurred, “I am not an administrator,” after a few years administering a diocese in Germany and twenty-three years administering the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.

    We will never know the real reasons for Benedict’s resignation, only be grateful for it. It is to be hoped that the church cardinals finally read the writing on the wall in choosing someone of a very different cast as Benedict’s successor. Francis has been fresh air indeed, reopening the windows of John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council that John Paul and Benedict slammed shut so loudly. That did not only cause the church air to grow extremely stale again, but is caused a mass exodus of members, lay and clerical.

    Two vital things are to be hoped. One, that Francis has plenty of healthy years in which to continue his sane efforts to clean up the monstrosity the church has become. Second, that one of the things Francis does is to revamp the whole system of church management, from parish, through dioceses, through national churches, and especially the inbred evil of the Vatican curia that promotes only itself and not the People of God, certainly not Jesus.

    Things cannot continue as they have been happening ever since the non-Christian Emperor Constantine took over the early Jesus communities at his Council of Nicaea in 325 for his political advantage. After that, the bishops more and more imitated Constantine’s evil monarchy. Like Constantine’s empire of Rome, the Vatican Church is now dying. Extreme unctions will not save it. Sensible and democratic management led by Francis and his successors might. That management absolutely must include all the People of God, not only the clergy.

  • I wish that David Gibson would comment on the Frontline program. I do have the background or knowledge to tell if it was accurate or not

  • I do not have the expertise to evaluate the Frontline program on the Vatican. I was wondering if David Gibson could share his views on this program. thank you.

  • “simply absurd” ?

    That simply does not sound like something Pope Benedict would say, or words he would use.

  • Ever heard of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation?

    Phoney Tony has talked incessantly about “engaging with religion in the political sphere”. Both he and his plunger-faced wife say they remain in the Catholic Church “to change it, not conform to it”.

    Blair’s foundation made approaches to the Vatican early in Pope Benedict’s term of office, only to be repulsed. So, a master of infiltration, bullying and blackmail was frustrated, at least for a while. What do you suppose he did next?

  • Keep it simple. We all need to worry and take care of our immortal souls. Eternity is a long time. I feel that many inside the Vatican and Church thought Pope Benedict XVI wanted to turn the clock backwards to pre Vatgican II days. That would have been just fine with me. At least we knew where we stood before all the “Changes” and opening the windows and letting the “fresh” air in. Clergy, Religious and he Laity blew out. Nothing blew in of any good.
    Today nothing is wrong. There is no sin, no hell and the devil does not exist. Exactly what Satan wants people to believe. The 10 Commandments were given to the Jewish People a long time before Jesus Christ was born. There was always right and wrong. Now we decide there is not. The Church has lost Her Authority as people do what they want, act like they want and dress like they want when they go to Church. They make the rules. You do not have to go to Confession. Jesus loves me. We all are going to Heaven. Not totally true. Jesus does love us all, but there are certain things that we HAVE to do and Confession for one, is necessary. All pomp, circumstance, beauty and Solemnity has been stripped away from the way Mass is celebrated as well as all the Sacraments. The priest faces the people and has become an entertainer, talking about the Yankees, the Mets, feeling good, etc. No mention of right and wrong, the devil, Hell, eternity. The priests are to blame. They are not being trainned properly and become lazy and think they are to be served now. Of course I do not mean ALL priests, but a big majority.
    We do need to turn the clock around. The Latin Tridentine Mass, the Mass of the Saints celebrated for years is the true Mass, not this Novous Ordo. We have to be raised up to God, not drag God down to the streets. Not wearing clerical clothing, cassocks, habits, etc. to make the priests look like pals of the people and nuns and brothers one of the women and men has not worked. There are less vocations today, schools are closing, Churches are closing and we keep our heads in the sand stating the reason is because of demographics. The real reson: People go to Church if and when they feel like it and this lax way of being a priest, nun or brother does not encourage but actually discourages people from wanting to become a priest, nun or brother. The Church stopped Novenas, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the Rosary and now when hardly anyone of the newer generations knows what they are, the Church is trying to encourage people to do these things. People do not care, they are not interested and have no idea what is happenning yet everything is in their native language and the priest faces them.
    The Church did make a mistake about the pedophile priests and how they handled it, but now they are aware and it will be dealt with, but NOT every priests is a pedophile. Funny when it involves the Holy Roman Catholic Church it is on the front page of the newspaper, but other religions it is in the back and hard to find.
    People and the Church WAKE UP! THe Church cannot take 50 more years of this nonesense. Fornication, homosexuality, abortion, etc. etc. are wrong and according the girl Jacinta of Fatima who saw our Blessed Lady, more people will go to hell because of sins of the flesh.
    I will take a chance that the Church is right because I want to spend eternity with the Lord. If I am wrong, then it will not matter because I will be dead.
    God Bless these Latin groups of Priests such as the Fraternity of Saint Peter and orders of Nuns that wear there habits and live in Community, the Domican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist and the Dominicans of Saint Cecilia in Tennessee, USA are justa few. There is a wind blowing like in 1963 but this time it is blowing in the right direction.

  • Our catholic community is important,we must support each other and also our own parish priest,We need to straightened them up if do wrong and also need more prayers .

  • is this a joke? thoughts like these are what will (and almost did) bring death to the Catholic Church. 2014 is NOT the dark ages. If you want to “spend eternity with the Lord” why dont you start acting like you’ve read the NEW testament. Treat your fellow man the way you’d like to be treated. Dont condemn abortions and then vote for war. Realize that gays aren’t “going away” and are people just like you and me and that love and humanity don’t care about things like race, sexual orientation or voting tendencies. Give raises to minimum wage, provide health care and food for the needy. Pay an extra 2% of your own hard earned annual income to make sure everyone has enough to eat. Sound crazy? Well that’s what Christianity is all about…

  • To G-man,
    You have not read the same New Testament that I have read. Many of the items you have listed are Sin, yes even in the New Testament. God is always concerned about Sin as that is what brings death, eternal death. Read Christ’s words in The Gospel of John, All have been judged.
    Sin is still sin. Thank God, He provided a way for us to not be judged, through faith in His Son. But He is still very concerned with a man’s heart and the sin that dwells within. Abortion is murder, a sin. War is not murder. Some wars are just. Love all men, but recognizing that their actions, ie. homosexuality, as sinful, is required in our discernment. We all must recognize sin for what it is, or we will not recognize our need for God.
    God is a God of Love however, He is also Holy and He will judge every man.

  • “Pay an extra 2% of your own hard earned annual income to make sure everyone has enough to eat.”

    Pay to whom? A government that is run by the Political class and work for their cronies and not for the people?

    How does giving money to greedy politicians and political cronies makes sure people have enough to eat?

    Donate that 2% to charity. The biggest one in the world is the Catholic Church, and it has done more than any leechy government.

  • God may judge, but men do not. Lucas 6:37, friend. ““Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

  • The leaks were sent by the Vatican hierarchy to create an excuse for getting rid of the current pope and bring in a liberal one that reflects the socialist ideals of the popular culture.

  • Well stated and agree. The times are bad but in the historical context, I cannot say how bad things are with respect to the pre-Martin Luther days when scandal and corruption were rampant among the clergy.
    But this much I know, God will never abandon His Church..he might chastise it and punish it, just like the did to his people, the Jews in the OT, but he will never abandon Her.

  • Also monetary corruption! Also drug addiction/alchoholism. The Vatican City Bank with donations from foolish church goers going to foolish goings on! Decadent parties with their gay friends regular friends and just plain parties with drugs and alcohol from people who don’t know any better and believe their endless hypocrisy and lies! Then the child raping and endless other nasty corruption going on from people who live and work in the Vatican! When does this bleep ever stop???

  • Pope Francis is a great guy re gays etc

    who am I to judge

    gay families contribute to society

    gave seating in a place of honor to new ways ministry a gay supportvie catholicc group in VA (RATZI threw them off church property)

    gave a pvt meeting with a trans man thrown out of his family

    now agrees that evolution is part of where manking came from.

  • btw demoted to a ceremonial no power post Cardinal Burke formerly of st louis, who called gays intriniscally disordered and evil (cloning RATZIs ideas

    He’s’ also supporting civil unions in itally, not perfect but a step in the right direction (Italy and tiny monaco are the only western Eu nations without relationship recognition)

    AS for marriage, all the marriage laws eg in the USA are re civil law marriage, there are about 20 denoms in the usa that will do marriage ceremonies for ggay people -short list

    UU UCC, evan lutherans, presbyUSA methodists, disciples of christ, Jewish reform and some conservatives, Moravians, Quakers etc

  • your eternity will be to dissolve except for the bones as is every one else. Why do we have babies – to continue mankind, the old die off, the new ones come and btw 75%-80% of Catholics under 30 support ssmar

  • If that statistic is true and I doubt it, then I hope that that group do not get the control they would like in the Catholic Church .I would rather be outside an organisation that would support same Sex marriage (the term is, to me a contradiction.)than be popular within.