Benedict XVI’s personal secretary stresses there are not two popes, but “an active member and a contemplative member”
VATICAN CITY – Archbishop Georg Gänswein recently raised eyebrows by stating that Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation had expanded the nature of the Petrine ministry and revolutionized the papacy.
According to an article last week in the National Catholic Register, the Prefect of the Pontifical Household, who is also Benedict’s personal secretary, told a conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University on May 20 that there are not 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,” Gänswein said. “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.”
Archbishop Gänswein, who was speaking at the presentation of a new book by Roberto Regoli entitled Beyond the Crisis of the Church — The Pontificate of Benedict XVI, also spoke of a “dramatic struggle” in the 2005 conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope, and acknowledged the existence of a so-called “St. Gallen Group,” which Cardinal Danneels of Brussels jokingly called “a kind of Mafia-club” opposed to Benedict’s election.
Here below is an Aleteia translation of the full text of Archbishop Gänswein’s speech.
Eminences, Excellencies, dear Brothers, Ladies and Gentlemen!
During one of the last conversations that the pope’s biographer, Peter Seewald of Munich, was able to have with Benedict XVI, as he was bidding him goodbye, he asked him: “Are you the end of the old or the beginning of the new?” The pope’s answer was brief and sure: “The one and the other,” he replied. The recorder was already turned off; that is why this final exchange is not found in any of the book-interviews with Peter Seewald, not even the famous Light of the World. It only appeared in an interview he granted to Corriere della Sera in the wake of Benedict XVI’s resignation, in which the biographer recalled those key words which are, in a certain way, a maxim of the book by Roberto Regoli, which we are presenting here today at the Gregorian.
Indeed, I must admit that perhaps it is impossible to sum up the pontificate of Benedict XVI in a more concise manner. And the one who says it, over the years, has had the privilege of experiencing this Pope up close as a “homo historicus,” the Western man par excellence who has embodied the wealth of Catholic tradition as no other; and — at the same time — has been daring enough to open the door to a new phase, to that historical turning point which no one five years ago could have ever imagined. Since then, we live in an historic era which in the 2,000-year history of the Church is without precedent.
As in the time of Peter, also today the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church continues to have one legitimate Pope. But today we live with two living successors of Peter among us — who are not in a competitive relationship between themselves, and yet both have an extraordinary presence! We may add that the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger had already marked decisively the long pontificate of St. John Paul II, whom he faithfully served for almost a quarter of a century as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Many people even today continue to see this new situation as a kind of exceptional (not regular) state of the divinely instituted office of Peter (eine Art göttlichen Ausnahmezustandes).
But is it already time to assess the pontificate of Benedict XVI? Generally, in the history of the Church, popes can correctly be judged and classified only ex post. And as proof of this, Regoli himself mentions the case of Gregory VII, the great reforming pope of the Middle Ages, who at the end of his life died in exile in Salerno – a failure in the opinion of many of his contemporaries. And yet Gregory VII was the very one who, amid the controversies of his time, decisively shaped the face of the Church for the generations that followed. Much more daring, therefore, does Professor Regoli seem today in already attempting to take stock of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, while he is still alive.
The amount of critical material which he reviewed and analyzed to this end is massive and impressive. Indeed, Benedict XVI is and remains extraordinarily present also through his writings: both those produced as pope — the three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth and 16 (!) volumes of Teachings he gave us during his papacy — and as Professor Ratzinger or Cardinal Ratzinger, whose works could fill a small library.
And so, Regoli’s work is not lacking in footnotes, which are as numerous as the memories they awaken in me. For I was present when Benedict XVI, at the end of his mandate, removed the Fisherman’s ring, as is customary after the death of a pope, even though in this case he was still alive! I was present when, on the other hand, he decided not to give up the name he had chosen, as Pope Celestine V had done when, on December 13, 1294, a few months after the start of his ministry, be again became Pietro dal Morrone.
Since February 2013 the papal ministry is therefore no longer what it was before. It is and remains the foundation of the Catholic Church; and yet it is a foundation which Benedict XVI has profoundly and permanently transformed during his exceptional pontificate (Ausnahmepontifikat), regarding which the sober Cardinal Sodano, reacting simply and directly immediately after the surprising resignation, deeply moved and almost stunned, exclaimed that the news hit the cardinals who were gathered “like a bolt from out of the blue.”
It was the morning of that very day when, in the evening, a bolt of lightning with an incredible roar struck the tip of St. Peter’s dome positioned just over the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. Rarely has the cosmos more dramatically accompanied a historic turning point. But on the morning of that February 11, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, concluded his reply to Benedict XVI’s statement with an initial and similarly cosmic assessment of the pontificate, when he concluded, saying: “Certainly, the stars in the sky will always continue to shine, and so too will the star of his pontificate always shine in our midst.”
Equally brilliant and illuminating is the thorough and well documented exposition by Don Regoli of the different phases of the pontificate. Especially its beginning in the April 2005 conclave, from which Joseph Ratzinger, after one of the shortest elections in the history of the Church, emerged elected after only four ballots following a dramatic struggle between the so-called “Salt of the Earth Party,” around Cardinals López Trujíllo, Ruini, Herranz, Rouco Varela or Medina and the so-called “St. Gallen Group” around Cardinals Danneels, Martini, Silvestrini or Murphy-O’Connor; a group that recently the same Cardinal Danneels of Brussels so amusedly called “a kind of Mafia-Club.” The election was certainly also the result of a clash, whose key Ratzinger himself, as dean of the College of Cardinals, had furnished in the historic homily of April 18, 2005 in St. Peter’s; precisely, where to a “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires” he contrasted another measure: “the Son of God, the true man” as “the measure of true humanism.” Today we read this part of Regoli’s intelligent analysis almost like a breathtaking detective novel of not so long ago; whereas the “dictatorship of relativism” has for a long time sweepingly expressed itself through the many channels of the new means of communication which, in 2005, barely could be imagined.