Theories Abound on Pope's 'Real Reasons' Behind Surprise Announcement

Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013 07:07 PM

By Edward Pentin

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Edward Pentin reporting from Rome — So many theories have been bandied around about the real reasons for Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation that many continue to be in the dark about the Pope’s real motives.

And yet the reasons the Pope gave in his announcement — namely that he was essentially too frail to govern as Pope — appear to be the best guide to understanding his shocking announcement.

The Pope is not suffering from any specific medical problem, and any accusations that he is are being swiftly rebutted by the Vatican. But his physical condition has weakened to such an extent that he felt obliged to take action.

Editor's Note: Health Benefits of Prayer Revealed!

One source close to the Pope’s inner circle told me Benedict had lost 22 pounds over the past year, while papal biographer Peter Seewald wrote in Germany’s Focus magazine this week that he had never seen the Pope so “exhausted and depressed” as when he last met the Pope, back in November.

Seewald, who has been working on a new book on the Pope and had met Benedict XVI several times in Rome over the past year, said the Pope’s “hearing had diminished” and he “could no longer see in his left eye.” He observed that the Pope had become so thin and emaciated that his old clothes would no longer fit him. “He didn’t look ill, but fatigue had taken hold of his body and soul and couldn’t be ignored,” he wrote.

Others close to him say that the Pope, aware he was beginning to fail physically, did not want to compete with the powerful witness to suffering that Blessed Pope John Paul II had already given during his final years — and he refused to do so out of simple humility. Nor did he want to be negligent over governance, as happened during his predecessor’s last years, during which much of the running of the church was delegated to his private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.

Paul Badde, Rome correspondent for Die Welt and close to the Pope’s aides, said Benedict viewed it as “unfair” to pass the onus of governing the church onto his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein. “That’s very rational of him and, I would say, shows a great humility,” said Badde.

The Pope has clearly been thinking about resigning for some time. As is now well known, the Pope first discussed the possibility openly in an interview with Seewald in 2010 for the book “Light of the World.”

But last August, Seewald broached the subject once more. He asked the Pope what more could be expected from his pontificate. “From me? Not much,” the Pope replied. “I am an old man and the strength stops. I think what I have done is enough.”

Asked if he would resign, the Pope answered: “That depends on how much my physical strength will be necessary for me.” He also said his annual September meeting with his former doctoral students would be his last, and that the final part of his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth which was published just before Christmas would be his “last book.”

Editor's Note: Health Benefits of Prayer Revealed!

His final decision to resign was, as he said, taken after much prayer, and sources say he was clearly convinced that the Holy Spirit was giving him the freedom to resign at this moment, at a time when recent scandals and crises have died down somewhat.

Indeed, those Church dramas had no direct influence on the Pope’s decision. When Seewald asked the Pope about last year’s Vatileaks scandal — the leaking of hundreds of confidential documents from the papal apartments by his former valet — the Pope said that although the betrayal was disappointing to him, the crisis did not alter his course.

“It wasn’t as though I fell into some kind of despair or world weariness,” the Pope told Seewald. “It was simply incomprehensible to me.” He added that he couldn’t “penetrate the psychology” behind it, nor what Paolo Gabriele, his valet, expected to gain from leaking the documents. But he said he was keen that the “Vatican’s judicial independence would be preserved.”

That conversation took place back in August, and some are claiming that a confidential dossier on the scandal, drawn up by a commission of cardinals and recently handed to the Pope, is explosive and implicates a number of senior officials.

Sources close to the Pope’s aides told me that he has been betrayed by some people whom he thought were old and trusted friends from Germany, but being an intensely loyal person, he has never sought to take action against them.

Others point to rivalries within the Roman Curia where the Italian feuding tribal mentality of some senior Curial officials made important parts of the Vatican ungovernable for him.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, his deputy, and some of the “old guard” who served in the Curia during John Paul II’s pontificate, have never got on. The Pope appeared to refer to these rivalries during his Ash Wednesday homily last week, two days after his announcement, when he talked about overcoming individualism and rivalry that can disfigure the Church.

And yet none of these crises prompted the Pope to resign. It comes down to the simple fact that as Pope, Benedict XVI has always tried to direct others to Jesus Christ, but his age and inability to govern to his own high standard led him to believe that his presence was starting to obscure that direction.

“The Church is built on the rock of Peter, and we have the assurance of non praevalebunt ["the gates of hell shall not prevail"],” said Badde. “But when the rock realizes he is starting to crumble away, then it is only fair and right that he exercise his sovereign liberty, and choose not to be the rock anymore but instead make way for the next Peter, the next firm and solid rock.”

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.

Editor's Note: Health Benefits of Prayer Revealed!

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