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Benedict dismisses resignation rumors as 'simply absurd'

Pope Emeritus responds sharply to recent speculation

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Picture: miqu77/Shutterstock.com

  • Andrea Tornielli for Vatican Insider/La Stampa
  • Vatican City
  • February 27, 2014
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“There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry” and the “speculations” surrounding it are “simply absurd”. Joseph Ratzinger was not forced to resign, he was not pressured into it and he did not fall victim to a conspiracy: his resignation was genuine and valid and there is no “diarchy” (dual government) in the Church today. There is a reigning Pope, Francis, who leads the Catholic Church and an Emeritus Pope whose “only purpose” is to pray for his successor.

The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has put pen to paper to set the record straight on the historic decision he took one year ago, in response to the various interpretations that have been circulating in the press and on the web regarding his gesture. Writing from the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican, he replied in person to a letter with some questions which we sent him a few days ago, after certain comments made in the Italian and international press about his resignation. Ratzinger was brief and to the point; he denied speculations about any secret reasons behind his resignation and urged people not to give undue importance to certain choices he has made, such as his decision to carry on wearing the white cassock after stepping down as Bishop of Rome.

Readers will recall the shock announcement Benedict XVI made on 11 February 2013, informing cardinals at the Consistory of his free decision to resign ingravescente aetate (because of old age): “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.” He also announced that the Apostolic See was going to be vacant as of the evening of 28 February when the cardinals would meet to begin the process of electing his successor. In the days that followed, Ratzinger informed he would be keeping his papal name Benedict XVI (the name with which he signed the letter he sent us), that he would from that moment on be referred to as Pope Emeritus (this title also appears in print on the letter) and that he planned to carry on wearing a white cassock, albeit a simpler version than the papal one: Ratzinger does not wear the short shoulder cape, known as the “pellegrina” and without the fascia.

At his final General Audience on 27 February 2013, Benedict XVI told a packed and sunny St. Peter’s Square that: “In these last few months, I have felt my strength diminish and I have asked God with insistency in my prayers to illuminate me with his light and make me take the best decision. I took this step in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, painful choices, always keeping the good of the Church in mind and not ourselves.”

He added that his decision to withdraw from the public spot light “hidden from the world”, did not mean a return to private life. “My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter,” he said.

It was these words regarding his wish to stay within “the enclosure of Saint Peter” that led some to think that Benedict XVI’s decision to resign had not been taken freely and was therefore not valid. The idea that the Pope Emeritus wanted to cut out a role for himself as a “shadow Pope”, was light years away from the real Ratzinger. After Francis’ election, the changes he brought with him and the electric effect his words and personal testimony have had on the Church, comparisons with his predecessor were to be expected. This is after all what always happens when a new Pope takes charge. Benedict XVI himself has always rejected this comparison. Over the past weeks, as the anniversary of his resignation approaches, some have gone a bit too far, suggesting that Benedict XVI’s resignation may not have lacked validity and that he is therefore still playing an active and institutional role beside the reigning Pope.

On 16 February, the author of this article sent the Pope Emeritus a letter with some specific questions regarding these interpretations. A response came two days later. “There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry,” Ratzinger wrote in his letter of reply. The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd.” Those closest to Ratzinger had been aware of the possibility of his resignation for a long time and he himself confirmed it in a book-length interview with the German journalist Peter Seewald (“Light of the World”, 2010): “If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign."

Full Story: Ratzinger: “My resignation is valid. Speculations are simply absurd”

Source: Vatican Insider/La Stampa

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