(LifeSiteNews) — An Italian history professor has said the resignation of the late Pope Benedict XVI in 2014 was the “darkest point” in his pontificate, ushering in a period of great “confusion” that has only worsened under Pope Francis.
On the latest episode of The John-Henry Westen Show, Professor Roberto de Mattei and I discussed the legacy of Benedict XVI and the challenges the Church faces in the wake of his death on December 31.
De Mattei, a prolific author and professor of history at the European University of Rome, told me that the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, the 2007 motu proprio that effectively expanded the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, was the “highest point” of Benedict’s papacy.
However, he considered the “lowest point” to be Benedict’s sudden resignation, for two reasons.
“The first is the fact itself of the resignation,” he said. “Because until today … the real reasons of this resignation [are inexplicable]. Because of course in the Church there were popes who abdicated … but in all the different cases, there was always a really important reason. And today it’s not so clear what is the real reason.”
The second reason, de Mattei explained, was Benedict’s adoption of the “Pope Emeritus” title.
“When Pope Benedict announced his abdication, all the people presumed that he would [go into] a monastery without participating [in] the life of the Church. But in fact what happened is that he assumed the title of ‘Pope Emeritus,'” he said. “He dressed in white. He gave the apostolic benediction. And so the common people had the idea of two popes, Benedict and Francis. But a diarchy is impossible in the Catholic Church … ”
Because of this, de Mattei added, Benedict himself played a significant role in creating the “confusion” that has become a distinguishing characteristic of Francis’ pontificate.
I also asked de Mattei to share his thoughts on the recent LifeSiteNews report that a U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) official bragged in 2005 about how Benedict would eventually be “forced” to resign the papacy.
“The existence of strong pressures is nothing new in the history of the Church,” he said. “And we can quote hundred of examples of this strong political pressure … from France, Spain, Germany. The Church and the popes have always resisted it … And so we can imagine, of course, the existence of plots, plans for intervening in the conclave.”
But de Mattei thinks Benedict was telling the truth about not resigning because of outside pressure, even though he admits this hardly resolves the question of why he resigned in the first place.
“But I think … the right attitude of a pope at this moment [is] to denounce this publicly. To say, for example, ‘I am obliged to abdicate for having fought the pressures,'” he said. “But on the contrary, Benedict always denied these pressures. So I don’t think that he was a liar.”
Having met the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2001 with a small group of Catholic scholars, de Mattei praised him for his deep concern for the liturgy that informed the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum during his papacy six years later.
But, he added later, Benedict’s problem was a “lack of authority,” meaning he was oftentimes too hands-off and thus not an effective administrator.
De Mattei hopes that Francis’ successor, who could come within the next few years, will not govern like a “dictator” and will instead “exercise justice” and reemphasize “good doctrine.”
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