A German newspaper today published two letters Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote last November which give a glimpse of how he views his resignation and what many see as turmoil in the Church that has followed his unexpected departure.
Bild newspaper reports that Benedict XVI wrote the letters in response to a cardinal but it doesn’t name him.
Cardinal Brandmüller, a former president the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, had told the newspaper the “Pope Emeritus” title never existed “in all of Church history” and that Benedict’s resignation had “knocked us cardinals sideways, and not only us.”
In one of his letters of reply, the Pope Emeritus shows that he is aware of the strife the Church has faced since he resigned, but is also concerned that some of the anger and frustration is being directed at him and his pontificate.
“I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has inflicted on you and many others,” Benedict writes in a letter dated Nov. 23, 2017, according to The New York Times. “However, for some people and – it seems to me – also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole.
“In this way,” Benedict adds, “a papacy itself is now being devalued and melted into the sorrow about the situation in which the Church currently finds itself.”
In the first letter, dated Nov. 9, 2017, Benedict was quite terse with the cardinal over his criticism of the title and life after resignation, reported the Times: “With ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope,” he wrote. “If you know of a better way, and believe that you can judge the one I chose, please tell me.”
Bild reported that Benedict refers in one of the letters to the Venerable Pope Pius XII and his contingency plan to step down in 1944 to avoid being “arrested by the Nazis.”
The German newspaper asked: “What did Benedict feel threatened by?” and added that a clue might be found in his words at his inauguration in 2005: “Pray for me that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”
Cardinal Brandmüller responded to Benedict, referring to the current confusion in the Church, by saying: “May the Lord help his Church.”
The Pope Emeritus replied in agreement: “Let us rather pray, as you did at the end of your letter, that the Lord will come to the aid of his Church.”
Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11, 2013, and relinquished office on Feb. 28 of that year. He became the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 who did so in order to end the Western Schism, and the first to do so on his own initiative since Celestine V in 1294.
He said in his resignation speech that he had chosen to step down because he had come to “the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
He also said that because today’s world is “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith,” he believed “both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”
Cardinal Brandmüller, one of the four cardinals to submit dubia to Pope Francis questioning aspects of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has long been a supporter of Joseph Ratzinger, but also the most vocal critic of his decision to resign.
In 2016 he wrote an article calling for a law to define the status of the ex-pope and concluding that the resignation of the Pope “is possible, and it has been done, but it is to be hoped that it may never happen again.” An extended version of the article appeared in the periodical, The Jurist.