VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Benedict’s former secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein has presented his detailed account of the events leading up to Pope Benedict XVI’s shock resignation in 2013, outlining the sequence of elements surrounding the historic moment.
The details are contained in Gänswein’s book, “Nothing but the Truth: My Life with Benedict XVI,” announced after Benedict’s death and published on January 12. LifeSiteNews has obtained a copy of the book, and the volume contains several criticisms of Pope Francis, as LifeSite has noted HERE and HERE.
Timeline: Tracing Benedict’s idea from its conception
Spring 2012: According to Gänswein, Benedict’s trip to Mexico and Cuba in March 2012 made the Pope “suddenly” realize “how much his strength was steadily diminishing.”
Unknown to Gänswein at the time, Pope Benedict had reportedly raised the idea of resigning when meeting Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone in April 2012, although “in the immediate aftermath there were no further developments.”
In early summer, Gänswein stated that he began to observe an “unusual tension in Benedict. Particularly after the celebration of Mass in the chapel, during the time of thanksgiving, I would see him very concentrated in prayer.”
September 2012: Gänswein stated that he was first informed of Benedict’s idea to resign on September 25, 2012, when the Pope met with him and stated: “I have reflected, I have prayed, and I have come to the conclusion that, because of diminishing strength, I must give up the Petrine ministry.”
According to Gänswein, Benedict cited his failing health and was concerned that he would end up physically frail like Pope John Paul II while still in the papal throne. He stated:
I have now been Pope for as many years as his illness and I would not like to end up like him. After all, what I could do I have done, and it would be better for the Church that I resign, with the election of a new, younger and more energetic Pontiff. This is the right time when, after the problematic events of these last months have found a conclusion, I can hand over the helm to another without too much difficulty.
Gänswein wrote that Benedict had planned to announce his resignation at the annual Christmas curial address, December 21, 2012 with an end date for his pontificate of January 25, 2013.
October 2012: However, Gänswein stated that he and Cardinal Bertone persuaded the Pope to delay the announcement until February. These discussion took place from mid-October onwards.
Given that the curial Lenten homilies would soon follow the resignation announcement, the preacher to the Papal household – Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi – was then also informed, so that he might suitably prepare his reflections. Gänswein does not state at what point this took place.
At this time also, then Archbishop Angelo Becciu, No. 2 at the Secretariat of State, was informed of the resignation plan. This was in order to proceed with Benedict’s plan to secure the Mater Ecclesiae monastery for his residence after resigning, Gänswein wrote.
January 2013: According to his secretary, Benedict “had begun in late January to draft the text he would read in Consistory.” Gänswein described the decision to read the text in Latin as “obvious,” because “this has always been the language of the official documents of the Catholic Church.”
February 1 – 10, 2013: Members of the Papal household were informed the week before the announcement. Different members of Benedict’ staff were told of his intentions in private meetings, seemingly from February 5 onwards.
Pope Benedict’s brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, was also told. Meanwhile Bertone informed the papal Master of Ceremonies Monsignor Guido Marini and Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.
Gänswein’s text states that Benedict finished his resignation formula on February 7, at which point Gänswein took the document to Bertone. Both Bertone and Gänswein “read it together with Monsignor Giampiero Gloder, coordinator in the Secretariat of State of the final editing of papal texts.” He writes that some “minor spelling corrections and a few legal precisions” were addressed.
On February 8, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was told by Benedict of his intentions. Sodano delivered a speech to Benedict in the Clementine Hall on behalf of the cardinals, following the resignation announcement.
On February 10, just one day before the intended announcement, Benedict’s resignation speech was fully ready, writes Gänswein. At this point, “translations into Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish were also provided.”
Day of resignation: February 11, 2013
On the morning of his resignation, Benedict appeared “extremely calm,” wrote Gänswein, and reportedly maintained a “serenity” throughout the day. Recounting this, Gänswein was at pains to argue that Benedict’s spirituality was a key point in his decision making process, and that “all his decisions were due to a direct rapport with God, by whom he truly felt inspired and constantly guided.”
Benedict celebrated Mass before meeting the assembled cardinals at 11am in the Clementine Hall.
The Pope was due to make an announcement confirming the upcoming canonization of Blessed Anthony Primaldo and his companions.
Instead of leaving after making that pronouncement, however, Benedict received the prepared resignation text from Gänswein.
Gänswein also took pains to negate any arguments against the validity of Benedict XVI’s resignation. He argued that in making the resignation announcement:
Benedict fulfilled exactly what the Code of Canon Law stipulates (can. 332 §2): “In the case that the Roman Pontiff renounces his office, it is required for validity that the renunciation be freely made and that it be duly manifested, it is not required instead that anyone accept it.” Obviously, in response to those who still claim that there is no formal record of that act, the date and the Pope’s autograph signature were affixed to the paper and his declaration was verbalized by an apostolic protontary, who drew up the Consistory deed, which is kept in the appropriate archives for perpetual memory.
Following Sodano’s speech to Benedict, Gänswein wrote that the rest of the day “continued in a surreal routine: everything proceeded as usual, but as if the atmosphere had suddenly become rarefied.”
From papal apartments to Castel Gandolfo
The period following his announcement and departure from the Vatican was a quiet one for Benedict, wrote Gänswein. He participated in the spiritual retreats given by Cardinal Ravasi but severely limited his appointments.
On the morning of February 28, when he was due to step down as reigning Pontiff, Benedict met and greeted a large number of the cardinals. After receiving a greeting in return from Cardinal Sodano, Benedict made his famous helicopter flight from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo around 5 p.m.
From the balcony there he delivered a final speech, in which he stated he would no longer be the Supreme Pontiff: “I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last stage of his pilgrimage in this land.”
Gänswein wrote that Benedict removed the papal “fisherman’s ring,” which Gänswein delivered to Bertone. In his role as camerlengo, Bertone then broke the ring on March 6.
Gänswein also gave the famous red “stole of the Apostles” back to the Papal MC Msgr. Marini, and then delivered the Papal stamp to Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, Benedict’s second secretary.
Gänswein wrote that on the day the election of Pope Francis was announced to the world, he went to greet the new Pontiff, who immediately asked to speak with Benedict. However, he did not report the contents of their subsequent phone call.
Issues regarding resignation speech
Gänswein, ever attentive to rebuffing arguments that Benedict’s resignation was invalid, noted that the “extreme secrecy with which the text was developed” necessarily involved only a few people, and with this reason he explained the February 11 publication of the resignation text which contained errors.
“In trying to give a harmonious gait to the Latin construction,” he wrote, “we failed to notice that one Latin concordance was incorrect: the accusative commissum connected to the dative ministerio, instead of commisso, in the phrase ‘declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum’ (‘I declare that I renounce the ministerium of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter, entrusted to me by the hand of the cardinals on April 19, 2005.’).”
Benedict’s secretary added that:
[d]ue to inappropriate typing, the first version released by the [Holy See]Press Office bore two other errors, like the previous one quickly fixed on the Vatican website in the early afternoon of that Feb. 11: a pro Ecclesiae vitae instead of pro Ecclesiae vita (“for the life of the Church”), and a hora 29 instead of hora 20. But these were not present on the paper Benedict held in his hands, since, as noted in the video recording, both were instead pronounced correctly.
This attention to detail regarding the text of Benedict’s resignation comes in light of many Catholics expressing doubts as to the publicized reasons for the resignation. The resignation text prompted debate as to its legitimacy which continued in many corners of the Church until Benedict’s death – debate fuelled by his continued use of the white cassock, and title Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
However, Cardinals Burke and Brandmuller, along with Gänswein – publicly at least – downplayed suggestions that Benedict somehow remained as Pope. Burke, the former Prefect of the Holy See’s Apostolic Signatura, stated that “I believe it would be difficult to say it’s not valid.”