Benedict XVI’s personal secretary stresses there are not two popes, but “an active member and a contemplative member”
Since the election of his successor Francis, on March 13, 2013, there are not therefore two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry — with an active member and a contemplative member. This is why Benedict XVI has not given up either his name, or the white cassock. This is why the correct name by which to address him even today is “Your Holiness”; and this is also why he has not retired to a secluded monastery, but within the Vatican — as if he had only taken a step to the side to make room for his successor and a new stage in the history of the papacy which he, by that step, enriched with the “power station” of his prayer and his compassion located in the Vatican Gardens.
It was “the least expected step in contemporary Catholicism,” Regoli writes, and yet a possibility which Cardinal Ratzinger had already pondered publicly on August 10, 1978 in Munich, in a homily on the occasion of the death of Paul VI. Thirty-five years later, he has not abandoned the Office of Peter — something which would have been entirely impossible for him after his irrevocable acceptance of the office in April 2005. By an act of extraordinary courage, he has instead renewed this office (even against the opinion of well-meaning and undoubtedly competent advisers), and with a final effort he has strengthened it (as I hope). Of course only history will prove this. But in the history of the Church it shall remain true that, in the year 2013, the famous theologian on the throne of Peter became history’s first “pope emeritus.” Since then, his role — allow me to repeat it once again — is entirely different from that, for example, of the holy Pope Celestine V, who after his resignation in 1294 would have liked to return to being a hermit, becoming instead a prisoner of his successor, Boniface VIII (to whom today in the Church we owe the establishment of jubilee years). To date, in fact, there has never been a step like that taken by Benedict XVI. So it is not surprising that it has been seen by some as revolutionary, or to the contrary as entirely consistent with the Gospel; while still others see the papacy in this way secularized as never before, and thus more collegial and functional or even simply more human and less sacred. And still others are of the opinion that Benedict XVI, with this step, has almost — speaking in theological and historical-critical terms — demythologized the papacy.
In his overview of the pontificate, Regoli clearly lays this all out as never before. Perhaps the most moving part of the reading for me was the place where, in a long quote, he recalls the last general audience of Pope Benedict XVI on February 27, 2013 when, under an unforgettable clear and brisk sky, the pope, who shortly thereafter would resign, summarized his pontificate as follows:
“It has been a portion of the Church’s journey which has had its moments of joy and light, but also moments which were not easy; I have felt like Saint Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: The Lord has given us so many days of sun and of light winds, days when the catch was abundant; there were also moments when the waters were rough and the winds against us, as throughout the Church’s history, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat, and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine, it is not ours, but his. Nor does the Lord let it sink; it is he who guides it, surely also through the men whom he has chosen, because he so wished. This has been, and is, a certainty which nothing can obscure.”
I must admit that, rereading these words can still bring tears to my eyes, all the more so because I saw in person and up close how unconditional, for himself and for his ministry, was Pope Benedict’s adherence to St Benedict’s words, for whom “nothing is to be placed before the love of Christ,” nihil amori Christi praeponere, as stated in rule handed down to us by Pope Gregory the Great. I was a witness to this, but I still remain fascinated by the accuracy of that final analysis in St. Peter’s Square which sounded so poetic but was nothing less than prophetic. In fact, they are words to which today, too, Pope Francis would immediately and certainly subscribe. Not to the popes but to Christ, to the Lord Himself and to no one else belongs the barque of Peter, whipped by the waves of the stormy sea, when time and again we fear that the Lord is asleep and that our needs are not important to him, while just one word is enough for him to stop every storm; when instead, more than the high waves and the howling wind, it is our disbelief, our little faith and our impatience that make us continually fall into panic.
Thus, this book once again throws a consoling gaze on the peaceful imperturbability and serenity of Benedict XVI, at the helm of the barque of Peter in the dramatic years 2005-2013. At the same time, however, through this illuminating account, Regoli himself now also takes part in the munus Petri of which I spoke. Like Peter Seewald and others before him, Roberto Regoli — as a priest, professor and scholar — also thus enters into that enlarged Petrine ministry around the successors of the Apostle Peter; and for this today we offer him heartfelt thanks.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household
20 May 2016
Translated from the Italian by Diane Montagna of Aleteia’s English edition.