At the Catholic Herald, Damian Thompson has a very interesting piece about Father Benedict, the cloistered monk of the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Rome, who is world famous for his great personal devotion to St. Celestine V. We have said—and said and said—that Benedict is the most interesting man in the Church today. Thompson offers a question-and-answer format. A couple of examples:
1. Why did Benedict XVI resign? This is regarded by many commentators as the greatest mystery in recent Church history. Not by me, however. The simple answer to the question is that the Pope felt that, at his age and with his health beginning to give way, he wasn’t up to the job. This isn’t a complete answer, because there are things we can’t know. If you’re looking for a “final straw”, then you can take your pick between the VatiLeaks affair, the machinations of Benedict’s enemies and the pope’s creeping awareness that he was losing his powers of concentration. Maybe he had a fit of despair brought on by the realisation that he’d inherited the papacy too late to implement long-term reforms while firefighting paedophile and financial scandals. If Ratzinger had become pope at 75, these challenges would have been less terrifying. He didn’t because St John Paul II insisted on holding office while incapacitated – the first pontiff to do so for a very long time. Perhaps this persuaded Benedict to take the plunge. I doubt that we shall ever know, so let’s move on.
2) Would Benedict have resigned if he knew Francis would succeed him? Purely hypothetical but interesting. Benedict must have known there was a chance that Cardinal Bergoglio would succeed him. My guess is that when the Argentinian emerged on the balcony the Pope Emeritus was dismayed but concluded that God works in mysterious ways. A more interesting, albeit even more hypothetical, question is whether Benedict would have resigned if he’d known Francis would call a synod that threw open the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics should receive Communion.
(Emphasis in original.) For longtime observers of Church politics—especially the politics surrounding the Vatileaks I scandal, the Holy Father’s election, and the 2014-2015 Synod—the piece may not contain any bombshells. However, as a source to point people to, the piece is hard to beat.
For our part, the most interesting thing about the Pope Emeritus’s retirement is that he has, seemingly, maintained his silence on matters of pressing concern to the Church. In particular, Benedict is unlikely to have missed the fact that there are those who seek to dismantle many of the accomplishments of John Paul’s reign—accomplishments that he played no small part in, especially from 1981, when he became prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the Kasperites and their friends in the Synod secretariat go on about what Familiaris consortio meant or didn’t mean, they apparently forget that John Paul promulgated the exhortation at almost the same time that he named Ratzinger prefect (November 1981). It is likely that the exhortation came up in conversation between John Paul and his closest doctrinal collaborator. And, certainly, the subsequent skirmishes over communion for bigamists involved Ratzinger intimately.
Were we in the Pope Emeritus’s shoes, we would scarcely be able to resist taking to the air to correct certain misstatements and misquotations. But, of course, that is probably why we are not in the Pope Emeritus’s shoes.