Paedophile priests, murky finances and corruption were the ‘filth’ that Joseph Ratzinger, 89, wanted to eliminate from the Roman Church when he became Pope Benedict XVI.
But they were hard to get rid of.
In a new book due to be published this week – Benedict XVI – Last Testament: In His Own Words by German author Peter Seewald – Ratzinger discusses how much his election as Pope burdened him and that, having been prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he knew precise details of the Church “dark side” that he was determined to eliminate.
“Of course I wanted to do more than I could,” the Pope Emeritus says.
During his pontificate, hundreds of paedophile priests were dismissed and he says he smashed a homosexual network in the Vatican.
Whether that has formed again, I do not know.
The book is said to be a mix of autobiography, testimony and written defence. The aim is to help Joseph Ratzinger explain himself and his pontificate to the world, according to its publishers.
The German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung, which has seen an advance copy of the book, says Benedict discusses “delicate” matters such as the strengths and weaknesses of his pontificate, cliques, religious doubts and Pope Francis.
It is “written in an easy style and is rich in anecdotes”, the newspaper says, and refers to many facts and stories which anyone familiar with Benedict and his pontificate will probably already be aware of.
In the book he confesses that he underestimated the political significance of his 2006 Regensburg speech which upset much of the Muslim world, and says Vatican officials gave him poor advice ahead of his decision in 2010 to lift the excommunication on Bishop Richard Williamson. He later learned that the former SSPX bishop had denied the extent of the Holocaust – a revelation that led to a “huge propaganda campaign” being “unleashed against me,” he says.
The newspaper report says Benedict is more gentle when he talks about Francis. He says his successor’s election completely surprised him, and initially unsettled him, but cordial dealings with him have since made him happy. Francis emphasises different things, but there are no contradictions, he believes.
In an interview this week in Die Zeit, Seewald said Benedict “was in love as a student, and it was very serious” and that it was a “a serious problem for him.”
In the years after the war, there were female students for the first time. He was a very smart guy, a good-looking young man, an aesthete, who wrote poetry and read Hermann Hesse … He had an impact on women and was impacted by them.
Benedict felt mentally and physically drained from his duties as the head of the Church, Seewald said, but did not quit for political reasons. The German author said that Benedict did not expect to live very long after his resignation, but a certain kind of resilience always kept him going.
Ratzinger has an ability to bounce back. One day you think, this was the last visit. The next time you realise he has gathered new strength.