When Pope emeritus Benedict XVI resigned as pontiff three years ago, he added a new dimension to the papacy, said his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Ganswein.
The archbishop spoke about Benedict’s pontificate and its wake at a May 20 book presentation of “Oltre la crisi della Chiesa” (Beyond the Church’s Crisis) by Father Roberto Regoli, an historian and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University. The book aims to be the first history-based evaluation of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
He also talked about other interesting matters: The struggle that happened during the 2005 papal conclave, Benedict XVI’s view of his historical resignation, the “Prophesy of Malachy” which allegedly sees Francis as the last pontiff, and others. His thoughts were captured in a rare, candid conversation with veteran journalist and EWTN Rome correspondent Paul Badde.
Struggle at the 2005 Conclave
Archbishop Ganswein reflected on the meaning of Benedict XVI’s election. He said that the election was “certainly the outcome of a clash” whose key interpretation had been given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself in his homily for the pre-conclave Mass on April 18, 2005.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger reflected on the clash of two forces. He criticized “a dictatorship of relativism” that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desire.” With this, he contrasted Christians’ goal of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and “the true man.” This is “the measure of true humanism.”
This clash is epitomized in what Archbishop Ganswein described as “the dramatic struggle” between two parties in the conclave. He labeled one the “Salt of the Earth” party after the name of a book-length interview with Cardinal Ratzinger. This party gathered around Cardinals Lopez Trujillo, Ruini, Herranz, Rouco Varela and Medina Estevez.
Then there is the highly-liberal “St. Gallen group” gathered around Cardinals Daneels, Martini, Silvestrini and Murphy-O’Connor. This is the group, Archbishop Ganswein noted, that Cardinal Daneels “himself amusedly described as ‘a sort of Mafia-club’.” Cardinal Daneels, in his biography, has suggested that the St. Gallen group was behind election to the papacy of Pope Francis.
Nature Had Spoken
When a massive lightning strike lit up the top of Saint Peter’s dome on the evening of Feb. 11, 2013, many observers chose to interpret this as a divine reaction to the historical announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation, made that very morning. As his personal secretary, Archbishop Gänswein, reminisced about how both he and Benedict only found out about the lightning strike after the event. “The impression was one of a sign from above, a reaction,” he told Badde. When he showed Benedict images of the spectacular incident a few days later, the pope asked whether this was some kind of digital montage, Gänswein said, adding: “however, nature had spoken.”
How Pope Benedict Sees His Decision to Resign Today
Archbishop Gänswein spoke about the painful emotional impact of Benedict’s farewell from the papal office and household. “Indeed, I found myself compelled to openly cry,” he said. However, with three years having passed since, “there has been a lot of reflection, personal reflection included.”
He affirmed that “Pope Benedict was – and to this day all the more is – very much at peace with his decision to resign, and that it was the right step to take. That helped me personally to overcome my initial resistance and accept what Pope Benedict truly realized after much struggle and prayer, what he found to be the right thing and then decided on.”
Benedict’s greatest joys since retiring, Gänswein said, are “to have time for prayer, for reflection and reading – but also for personal encounters,” despite also living “the life of a monk” in the monastery he now resides in.
An Expanded Petrine Ministry
Archbishop Ganswein said that for the last three years, Catholics have witnessed the unprecedented situation of living “with two living successors of Peter among us.” He said Benedict and Francis “are not in competition with each other, though they have an extraordinary presence.”
For Archbishop Ganswein, Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement on Feb. 11, 2013 marked the introduction of a new institution into the Catholic Church: the Pope emeritus. Pope Benedict used a key phrase in his resignation speech: “munus Petrinum.” This phrase is often translated “Petrine Ministry.” According to the archbishop, the Latin word “munus” has many meanings: service, commitment, guide, gift, even wonder.
“Benedict XVI thought of his commitment as a participation in that Petrine ministry,” the archbishop said. “That means that he left the papal throne, but he did not abandon this ministry.”
Benedict XVI now acts “with a collegial and synodal dimension” and a “common ministry” that appears to echo his episcopal and papal motto: ‘cooperatores veritatis,’ ‘cooperators of the Truth’,” he said.
Hence, “since Pope Francis’ election, there are not two Popes, but there is a de facto enlarged ministry, with both an active and a contemplative member.”
The archbishop said that this is why Benedict did not renounce his papal name or give up his white cassock.
“This is the reason why the correct appellation for him is ‘Your Holiness.’ This is finally the reason why he did not retire to an isolated monastery, but within the Vatican walls, as if he just took a step aside to make space for his successor and for a new step in the history of the papacy,” Archbishop Ganswein said.
This is how Benedict XVI has “profoundly and lastingly transformed” the papal ministry during his “exceptional pontificate.”
The ‘Prophecy of the Popes’
During the interview, Paul Badde referenced an old alleged prophecy that has recently gained traction in some clerical discussions: The “Prophesy of the Popes.” Also known as the “Prophesy of Malachy,” the prediction is attributed to Saint Philipp Neri – according to which, Pope Francis may be considered to be the last pope.
“Indeed, when looking at the prophecy, and considering how there was always a sound reference to popes mentioned in its history – that gives me the shivers,” Archbishop Gänswein admitted. Although Catholics aren’t required to accept the prophecy, “speaking from historical experience, one has to say: Yes, it is a wake-up call.”