The name that the new pope took immediately after his election therefore already represented a plan. Joseph Ratzinger did not become Pope John Paul III, as perhaps many would have wished. Instead, he went back to Benedict XV — the unheeded and unlucky great pope of peace of the terrible years of the First World War — and to St. Benedict of Norcia, patriarch of monasticism and patron of Europe. I could appear as a star witness to testify that, over the previous years, Cardinal Ratzinger never pushed to rise to the highest office of the Catholic Church.
Instead, he was already dreaming of a condition that would have allowed him to write several last books in peace and tranquility. Everyone knows that things went differently. During the election, then, in the Sistine Chapel, I was a witness that he saw the election as a “true shock” and was “upset,” and that he felt “dizzy” as soon as he realized that “the axe” of the election would fall on him. I am not revealing any secrets here, because it was Benedict XVI himself who confessed all of this publicly on the occasion of the first audience granted to pilgrims who had come from Germany. And so it isn’t surprising that it was Benedict XVI who immediately after his election invited the faithful to pray for him, as this book again reminds us.
Regoli maps out the various years of ministry in a fascinating and moving way, recalling the skill and confidence with which Benedict XVI exercised his mandate. And what emerged from the time when, just a few months after his election, he invited for a private conversation both his old, fierce antagonist Hans Küng as well as Oriana Fallaci, the agnostic and combative grande dame of Jewish origin, from the Italian secular mass media; or when he appointed Werner Arber, the Swiss Evangelical and Nobel Prize winner, as the first non-Catholic President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Regoli does not cover up the accusation of an insufficient knowledge of men that was often leveled against the brilliant theologian in the shoes of the Fisherman; a man capable of truly brilliantly evaluating texts and difficult books, and who nevertheless, in 2010, frankly confided to Peter Seewald how difficult he found decisions about people because “no one can read another man’s heart.” How true it is!
Regoli rightly calls 2010 a “black year” for the pope, precisely in relation to the tragic and fatal accident that befell Manuela Camagni, one of the four Memores Domini belonging to the small “papal family.” I can certainly confirm it. In comparison with this misfortune the media sensationalism of those years — from the case of traditionalist bishop, Williamson, to a series of increasingly malicious attacks against the pope — while having a certain effect, did not strike the pope’s heart as much as the death of Manuela, who was torn so suddenly from our midst. Benedict was not an “actor pope,” and even less an insensitive “automaton pope”; even on the throne of Peter he was and he remained a man; or, as Conrad Ferdinand Meyer would say, he was not a “clever book,” he was “a man with his contradictions.” That is how I myself have daily been able to come to know and appreciate him. And so he has remained until today.
Regoli observes, however, that after the last encyclical, Caritas in veritate of December 4, 2009, a dynamic, innovative papacy with a strong drive from a liturgical, ecumenical and canonical perspective, suddenly appeared to have “slowed down,” been blocked, and bogged down. Although it is true that the headwinds increased in the years that followed, I cannot confirm this judgment. Benedict’s travels to the UK (2010), to Germany and to Erfurt, the city of Luther (2011), or to the heated Middle East — to concerned Christians in Lebanon (2012) — have all been ecumenical milestones in recent years. His decisive handling to solve the issue of abuse was and remains a decisive indication on how to proceed. And when, before him, has there ever been a pope who — along with his onerous task — has also written books on Jesus of Nazareth, which perhaps will also be regarded as his most important legacy?
It isn’t necessary here that I dwell on how he, who was so struck by the sudden death of Manuela Camagni, later also suffered the betrayal of Paolo Gabriele, who was also a member of the same “papal family.” And yet it is good for me to say at long last, with all clarity, that Benedict, in the end, did not step down because of a poor and misguided chamber assistant, or because of the “tidbits” coming from his apartment which, in the so-called “Vatileaks affair,” circulated like fool’s gold in Rome but were traded in the rest of the world like authentic gold bullion. No traitor or “raven” [the Italian press’s nickname for the Vatileaks source] or any journalist would have been able to push him to that decision. That scandal was too small for such a thing, and so much greater was the well-considered step of millennial historical significance that Benedict XVI made.
The exposition of these events by Regoli also merits consideration because he does not advance the claim that he sounds and fully explains this last, mysterious step; not further enriching the swarm of legends with more assumptions that have little or nothing to do with reality. And I, too, a firsthand witness of the spectacular and unexpected step of Benedict XVI, I must admit that what always comes to mind is the well-known and brilliant axiom with which, in the Middle Ages, John Duns Scotus justified the divine decree for the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God:
“Decuit, potuit, fecit.”
That is to say: it was fitting, because it was reasonable. God could do it, therefore he did it. I apply the axiom to the decision to resign in the following way: it was fitting, because Benedict XVI was aware that he lacked the necessary strength for the extremely onerous office. He could do it, because he had already thoroughly thought through, from a theological point of view, the possibility of popes emeritus for the future. So he did it.
The momentous resignation of the theologian pope represented a step forward primarily by the fact that, on February 11, 2013, speaking in Latin in front of the surprised cardinals, he introduced into the Catholic Church the new institution of “pope emeritus,” stating that his strength was no longer sufficient “to properly exercise the Petrine ministry.” The key word in that statement is munus petrinum, translated — as happens most of the time — with “Petrine ministry.” And yet, munus, in Latin, has a multiplicity of meanings: it can mean service, duty, guide or gift, even prodigy. Before and after his resignation, Benedict understood and understands his task as participation in such a “Petrine ministry.” He has left the papal throne and yet, with the step made on February 11, 2013, he has not at all abandoned this ministry. Instead, he has complemented the personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, as a quasi shared ministry (als einen quasi gemeinsamen Dienst); as though, by this, he wanted to reiterate once again the invitation contained in the motto that the then Joseph Ratzinger took as archbishop of Munich and Freising and which he then naturally maintained as bishop of Rome: “cooperatores veritatis,” which means “fellow workers in the truth.” In fact, it is not in the singular but the plural; it is taken from the Third Letter of John, in which in verse 8 it is written: “We ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth.”