ROME — What is Benedict XVI's own view of his historical resignation? What has the fallout been from his secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein's controversial remark on an “expanded Petrine office”? What about the “Prophecy of St. Malachy,” which allegedly sees Francis as the last pope?
In a recent and candid conversation, veteran journalist and EWTN Rome correspondent Paul Badde sat down with Archbishop Gänswein, who gave his take on these and a number of other questions.
The German archbishop currently serves Pope Francis as prefect of the papal household, and he has also maintained his duties as secretary for the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI.
'Nature Had Spoken'
When a massive lightning strike lit up the top of St. Peter's dome on the evening of Feb. 11, 2013, many observers chose to interpret this as a divine reaction to the historical announcement of Pope Benedict's resignation, made that very morning. As his personal secretary, Archbishop Gänswein, reminisced about how both he and Benedict only found out about the lightning strike after the event, “the impression was one of a sign from above, a reaction,” he told Badde. When he showed Benedict images of the spectacular incident a few days later, the pope asked whether this was some kind of digital montage, Gänswein said, adding: “Nature had spoken.”
How Pope Benedict Sees His Decision to Resign Today
Archbishop Gänswein spoke about the painful emotional impact of Benedict's farewell from the papal office and household. “Indeed, I found myself compelled to openly cry,” he said. However, with three years having passed since, “there has been a lot of reflection, personal reflection included.”
He affirmed that “Pope Benedict was — and to this day, all the more is — very much at peace with his decision to resign and that it was the right step to take. That helped me personally to overcome my initial resistance and accept what Pope Benedict truly realized after much struggle and prayer, what he found to be the right thing and then decided on.”
Benedict's greatest joys since retiring, Gänswein said, are “to have time for prayer, for reflection and reading — but also for personal encounters,” despite also living “the life of a monk” at the monastery in which he now resides.
An 'Expanded Petrine Office'?
There are a number of cardinals, Badde said during the interview, that are “upset when hearing that the Church currently has two living successors to Peter. Recently, you spoke about an expanded Petrine office, which Pope Benedict is said to have introduced. Could you explain that a bit further?”
“I saw from among the reactions that I was imputed to have said a number of things that I did not say. Of course, Pope Francis is the legitimate and legitimately elected Pope,” Archbishop Gänswein said.
“Any talk of two popes, one legitimate, one illegitimate, is, therefore, incorrect.”
What he did, in fact, say, Archbishop Gänswein added, was that Benedict continues to be present in prayer and sacrifice, which bears spiritual fruit.
The archbishop also dismissed any talk of problems or even some form of rivalry. “When applying common sense, faith and a little theology, that should be clear.”
The 'Prophecy of the Popes'
During the interview, Badde referenced an old alleged prophecy that has recently gained traction in some clerical discussions: The “Prophecy of the Popes.” Also known as the “Prophesy of St. Malachy,” the prediction is attributed to the 12th‑century archbishop of Armagh; according to it, Pope Francis may be considered to be the last pope.
“Indeed, when looking at the prophecy, and considering how there was always a sound reference to popes mentioned in its history — that gives me the shivers,” Archbishop Gänswein admitted.
Although Catholics aren't required to accept the prophecy, “speaking from historical experience, one has to say: Yes, it is a wake-up call.”