So let’s say that The Telegraph prints a story from its Rome bureau about the interesting new statements by Pope Benedict XVI about events surrounding his historic decision to retire. The top of the story, logically enough, starts with Benedict’s own point of view:
“God told me to do it,” the 86-year-old former pontiff told a friend, six months after his decision to step down shocked the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
God had implanted in his heart the “absolute desire” to resign and to devote himself to a life of prayer and reflection, Benedict told the anonymous confidante, according to Zenit, a Rome-based Catholic news agency.
“It was not because of any type of apparition or phenomenon of that sort,” he said, but instead the result of a “mystical experience” received during “a direct rapport with the Lord”. He said the more he sees the “charisma” of Pope Francis, his successor, the more he is convinced that it was “the will of God” that he became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
So far, pretty normal stuff — journalistically speaking.
However, later in the story the omniscient editorial voice of the newsroom added:
Benedict returned to live in the Vatican in May, saying that he would remain “hidden from the world”, devoting the rest of his life to prayer and theological study. His remarks will do little to dampen speculation about the more worldly reasons for his departure.
Although old and frail, he does not appear to be suffering from any specific illness, prompting speculation about his true motives.
Etc., etc. Now, you put these two sections of the news report together and you can get this kind of distressed remark from a faithful GetReligion reader:
“So, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a liar?”
Actually, no, for at least two reasons — one journalistic and the other theological.
First of all, it’s a statement of fact, verified by the Vatican, that Benedict XVI made these remarks. The story says that.
Also, it is a point of journalistic fact that plenty of people — inside and outside the church of Rome — continue to speculate about the “real” reasons about his departure. That’s a fact and, thus, the story properly says so.
At the same time, the pope has described some of this message from God, but not all of it. It is entirely possible that in this experience of divine contact or presence he felt a sense of conviction about some of recent events and trends in the church, such as the decades of scandals linked to the clergy sexual abuse of children and teens. It’s possible that he believes God instructed him that it would be better for a fresh broom to attack these issues.
In other words, it’s easy to see both of these sections of the story fitting together logically. Truth is, Benedict said nothing to describe the content of his word from his Lord God.
You can see some of that same logic in the Los Angeles Times take on this event, especially near the end of the top section of the story:
ROME — Former Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world by resigning in February, has reportedly revealed that God told him to do it during a “mystical experience.”
The first pontiff to step down in six centuries, Benedict said, “God told me to,” when asked about his decision to dedicate himself to a life of prayer instead.
The 86-year-old pope emeritus said he had not witnessed a vision of God but had undergone a months-long “mystical experience” during which God gave him the “absolute desire” to forge a deeper relationship with him. Benedict also said that the more he witnessed the “charisma” of his extremely popular successor, Pope Francis, the more he understood how his stepping aside was the “will of God.”
And this “charisma,” of course, might include human and spiritual gifts related to the challenges that so burdened Benedict XVI.
Of course, this story also mentions the months of speculation about the “real” motives for Benedict’s historic decision. That’s part of the public record.
Once again, let me note: Maybe the “real” reason for the retirement consists of divine revelation about how best to handle these burdens and scandals. That’s a logical way to look at the mysterious content of the retired pope’s statement.
PHOTO: Vatican press office