A “Vaticanista” looks back to the Papacy of Benedict XVI

2013-03-05 Vatican Radio

Politi says that by stepping down Pope Benedict “has moved the human aspect of the Pontiff to the forefront, underlining that the Church is led by Christ – not by a person – and that the Popes are servants”. So, he says “when it is the time for a servant that has much vigour spiritually and physically, then it is good that the former servant gives way to a successor”.
This – he says – is very human, and at the same time it is theologically very deep because it puts Christ and God at the center of the community.
Politi agrees that Benedict’s unprecedented step in modern times to step down in a way modernizes the Papacy. He says that “he is completing the reforms of Paul VIth who wanted to refresh the top hierarchy of the Church. In fact he decided that bishops over 75 had to retire, and then he decided that Cardinals over 80 could not be electors in the Conclave”. Now Benedict is giving his successors the possibility to step down at a certain moment of their life.
Being Benedict a rational man Politi points out that “he knows very well that in the modern world changes are very quick so you need somebody who can follow all those changes”. And also in the modern world, where the media and public opinion are so focused on the Pope, it is not possible like in past centuries to have an old and ill Pontiff who delegates administration to someone behind the scenes.
Politi adds that this gesture, which was revolutionary, and at the same time humble and noble, also was a way to recognize his personal limits. Many people – he says – have appreciated this gesture, “even those who maybe were not in agreement with him got a new wave of sympathy for him”.
Because of his very high intellectual and theological stature – Politi continues – Benedict has always been beyond stereotypes. And because it is not in his temperament to “rule” the machinery of the Curia, he showed a certain lack of leadership. But thanks to his “intellectual dimension he was often moving “from past to present, from past to future. For instance, in the last years he often underlined the fact that Christians must be an active minority in modern society – recognizing that society has changed. He reiterated this concept during his journey to Britain, and also when he returned from Prague when he said ‘it is time to open a dialogue with non-believers who are in search of the truth’. And he decided to invite non-believers for the first time to the great religious meeting in Assisi” – this Politi says – is also very modern because it means “to understand that modern society is a society of crossroads where many philosophies, religions and ways of thinking meet with Christianity. And Christianity must be able to be in dialogue with these dimensions”.
Politi speaks of his recently published book, “Joseph Ratzinger: Crisis of a Papacy”, written because he realized that there had been too many crises in the Papacy. He says that although they were all unwanted crises, they showed there was a problem. Politi mentions the crises with Islam, with Jews because of the Lefevrian groups, and he says there were other flashpoints culminating of course with the “Vatileaks” crisis and the questions regarding the Vatican Bank.
As regards his handling of the sexual abuse crisis – Politi points out that – it must be said “Pope Benedict has turned a new page in the history of the Catholic Church” with his zero tolerance line, by putting the victims at the center of the attention, and by recognizing the failures of some bishops who failed to apply the rules. And he has put new, more rigorous rules in place and asked bishops all over the world to elaborate guidelines to confront this phenomenon.
Politi says that he thinks when Benedict spoke of the burden of the Papacy, saying that sometimes it was very heavy to bear this burden, the Pope was also referring to these situations.
As regards the problems he ran into with Jews, Politi says in reality Pope Benedict had a “super great esteem for the Jewish traditions. He found a better a better word to describe the Church’s relationship with the Jews than did Blessed John Paul II, because John Paul II, coming from the Romantic Polish tradition said that they were ‘our elder brethren’, but the Jews don’t like this example because the elder brethren always fail, and the younger brethren win – like Jacob or Joseph – and Pope Benedict found a better word when he said ‘our fathers in faith’, showing he is a very subtle theologian”.
Finally, thinking back to his own reaction when the news broke that Pope Benedict had stepped down, Politi says he actually wasn’t surprised. After having ascertained the veracity of the news, he recalled that for a number of years he had been saying that because of his mentality, Benedict could become the first Pope to step down in modern times. He had always predicted a 50 percent possibility that he would do so. Why? Because – Politi says – “I always took Ratzinger’s speeches very seriously. Also when he interviewed him I noticed he has a way of choosing his words: ‘when he speaks it is as if he is writing what he thinks’. So when two years ago he told his biographer, Peter Seewald, that in certain circumstances of physical, psychological and mental stress a Pope, not only has the right but also the duty to step down. This for me was like an alarm signal because he was speaking about “duty” and for the Germans the word duty is very strong. And already when Pope John Paul II was very ill, there were only two Cardinals who were speaking about the possibility of him stepping down: one was Cardinal Ratzinger and the other was Cardinal Maradiaga. So this idea regarding the possibility and the necessity to step down was in his mind as a rational option. So when it happened I said: voilà – he did it”.
Politi speaks of the great esteem he has for Benedict’s spiritual and intellectual qualities. He says he always liked the way he preached the Gospel in some little parishes he visited as the Bishop of Rome. “He has a way” – Politi says – “of explaining the Gospel in such a clear way that it comes straight to the heart and the minds of both very intellectual people and of very simple people. I always felt in his words a Living Faith”.
If at times – Politi says – “I have been critical towards some aspects of his lack of leadership, it is because it is the duty of a journalist to observe what happens (…). Even if you see a personality and recognize that he is an exceptional or extraordinary personality, whether he is a politician, a leader or a religious leader, you must observe what really happens in his mandate and you must be a witness of things, even if they don’t all go well”.