On February 27, 2021, former Pope Benedict XVI gave an exclusive interview to the Italian press, eight years to the day after the coming into effect of his relinquishing the sovereign pontificate. The Pope Emeritus looks back on these eight years, and delivers his analysis of recent events.
“There is only one pope, not two.” The voice addressing the editor of Corriere della Sera is weak, but the thought behind it is still agile. Joseph Ratzinger sits in the living room on the first floor of the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, where he retired from the world in March 2013.
Luciano Fontana did not come empty-handed: he presented the former Roman pontiff with two caricatures that Emilio Giannelli, an artist at the Corriere, made especially for him. The face of the Mater Ecclesiae host lights up: “This Giannelli is a witty person,” he says with a smile.
Then Benedict XVI returns to his resignation made eight years ago: “it was a difficult decision. But I took it with full knowledge, and I think I did the right thing,” he explains.
Francis' predecessor recalls the turmoil caused by his departure: “Some of my most ‘tenacious’ friends are still angry, they did not want to accept my choice. And I think of the theories that followed: some said it was because of the Vatileaks scandal, others that it was a conspiracy of the gay lobby, still others even advanced the case of [Bishop] Richard Williamson. Not everyone who supports these theories wants to believe in a conscious choice. But my conscience is doing well.”
In Mater Ecclesiae, life is well paced: the press—duly selected by the Vatican offices—is read every day. The Osservatore Romano, the Corriere della Sera and two other German newspapers arrive in print daily.
At the table, we often discuss politics. Moreover, the Pope Emeritus confides that he is curious to know Mario Draghi, the new President of the Italian Council: “we hope that he will be able to resolve the crisis, he is a man very respected in Germany,” he specifies.
Asked about Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Iraq, his expression grows serious, even worried: “I think this is a very important trip, unfortunately it comes at a very difficult time, which makes it a dangerous trip for security reasons, and also because of the Covid—not to mention the instability of this country. I will accompany Francis with my prayer.”
On the new president of the United States, the Pope Emeritus chooses his words, and shows that he has lost none of his diplomatic skill: “That's right, he’s Catholic and practicing. And personally, he is against abortion,” he observes.
“But as president, he tends to present himself in the continuity of the line of the Democratic Party, and on gender theory, we have not yet grasped his position,” alluding implicitly to the suspicion and hostility of part of the American episcopate towards Joe Biden.
The interview ends. The former Roman pontiff greets Luciano Fontana, and with a smile thanks him, pointing to the two drawings by Giannelli on the table.
In the first, the cartoonist sketches a Benedict XVI symbolically embracing a crowded St. Peter’s square, while Francis is in front of a deserted square, due to the health constraints linked to Covid-19: but long before the arrival of the pandemic, the Argentine Pope was no longer really attracting crowds.
In the second drawing, Benedict XVI entrusts the keys of the Catholic Church to a frowning Pope Francis, as his predecessor gives him a whole series of recommendations.