VATICAN CITY — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is no longer writing on theology, as he doesn’t have the strength to continue with this work, his personal secretary has said.
In an interview with the Italian weekly magazine Oggi, published March 17, Archbishop Georg Gänswein said Benedict XVI “no longer dedicates himself to theological or scientific writings,” and with the completion of his three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth, “he has concluded his theological work.”
“He says he doesn’t have the strength to write anymore,” Archbishop Gänswein said. “He continues to preach a homily at holy Mass on Sunday — without notes. He has a great memory.”
The pope emeritus is “well for his age,” and every afternoon he takes a stroll in the Vatican Gardens (Oggi released photographs of Benedict and the archbishop walking on the grounds). “He usually goes with me; we recite the Rosary together. We walk for half an hour,” said Archbishop Gänswein, who has been Benedict’s personal secretary since 2003.
He said Benedict used to walk briskly, but on the advice of a doctor, he now uses a walker outside and a walking stick in his Mater Ecclesiae residence, a converted former convent.
A source close to the pope emeritus told the Register that Benedict’s inability to write has less to do with his age than physical state, noting that Joseph Ratzinger had never been physically strong. The pope emeritus also told private visitors at the beginning of last year that he would write no more theology after his trilogy on Jesus.
Archbishop Gänswein said the pope emeritus, nevertheless, keeps a daily routine.
“The day always begins with Mass, and I concelebrate with him every morning,” he said. “During the day, he prays, studies, responds to many letters and, not infrequently, plays the piano in the evening.”
Recalling the time when Benedict left the apostolic palace for the last time two years ago, on Feb. 28, the German prelate said he “was moved” to see him leave and did not have a heart “of stone.”
“After eight years as [his] secretary, I was living a historic moment,” he said. “Instead, Pope Benedict was serene.” That evening, he recalled, “all of [my] emotions that had been held back until then became tears.”
Archbishop Gänswein, who also serves as prefect of the pontifical household under Pope Francis, reflected on his unprecedented role of serving two pontiffs. “I started this journey with great faith, energy, but also a bit of apprehension. Now, after two years, it is easier.”
He continued: “At first, I was more insecure, also because, at the outset, some didn’t welcome the presence of the pope emeritus in the Vatican. Then came Francis’ welcoming attitude to Benedict XVI, which was, and is, exemplary. Between the two, there really is a very friendly and respectful relationship.”
Recalling the Vatileaks scandal and Benedict’s resignation, Archbishop Gänswein said it was “a difficult period,” and he “experienced disappointment; I felt betrayed.”
But he said Pope Benedict’s confidence in him was never lacking. “I felt, in a sense, responsible for not having been more vigilant, for bestowing trust on those who didn’t deserve it,” he said.
He consoles himself with the thought that “even among the apostles there were those who betrayed” Jesus, but said that when he realized someone so close to the pope had done so, he “was very shocked.”
“When I look back, I feel pangs in the heart,” he said.
On Pope Francis, he said that the Holy Father’s media image coincides with the Francis he has gotten to know on a personal level. “Francis is an authentic person,” he said, adding that he was “surprised at his capacity to work.”
“He always has many appointments, private and general audiences, personal meetings. And, at 78 years of age, he tackles everything with an extraordinary strength.”
On the Pope’s plans for reform, the archbishop said there are those who don’t share his vision, but he dismissed reports that the plans are being “hindered or thwarted.” The challenges of the missionary Church represent the theme of this pontificate, he said, adding that economic and financial questions and other aspects of Curial reform are ongoing, “but need patience and time.”
He added, “A large ship cannot change direction in a short time. It isn’t a small boat.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.