Benedict XVI: Questions About Validity of Resignation are "Absurd"

Benedict XVI greeting Pope Francis in St. Peter's basilica on Saturday.
Benedict XVI greeting Pope Francis in St. Peter's basilica on Saturday. (photo: Register Files)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has firmly refuted speculation that he was forced to resign the papacy which, if true, would have invalidated his resignation.

In a written response to questions submitted to him by veteran Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli, Benedict XVI said there is "absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry” and that “speculations” surrounding it are “simply absurd”.

He denied he was forced to resign, was pressured into it, or fell victim to a conspiracy, according to an article in Vatican Insider published today. His resignation was genuine and valid and there is no “diarchy”, or dual government, in the Church today, the Pope Emeritus insisted. He said his “only purpose” is to pray for his successor," Vatican Insider reports.

Benedict's comments represent the first time he has spoken publicly about his resignation since he announced his decision to step down last year.

For some months, there has been speculation that he unwillingly resigned, thereby invalidating his decision and, consequently, the pontificate of Pope Francis.

The Pope Emeritus announced his decision last year with the words: “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” At his final general audience on 27 February 2013, he further underlined that he had felt his "strength diminish" and had asked God "with insistency in my prayers to illuminate me with his light and make me take the best decision."

"I took this step in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, painful choices, always keeping the good of the Church in mind and not ourselves," he said at the general audience. "I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter,” he said.

Some have speculated that his wish to stay within “the enclosure of Saint Peter” implied that his decision to resign had not been taken freely and was therefore not valid. Coming so soon after the Vatileaks scandal and conspiracies in the Roman Curia, these factors added fuel to the speculation. 

Tornielli therefore sent a letter to Benedict on 16 February this year, asking for his clarification on these interpretations, and the Pope Emeritus responded two days later. He wrote: "There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry. The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd.”

Benedict XVI also wrote: “I continue to wear the white cassock and kept the name Benedict for purely practical reasons. At the moment of my resignation there were no other clothes available. In any case, I wear the white cassock in a visibly different way to how the Pope wears it. This is another case of completely unfounded speculations being made."

Tornielli says Benedict XVI proved this at last Saturday’s consistory, which Francis had invited him to, when he took a seat along with the cardinal bishops instead of accepting the special seat that was offered to him. When Francis came up to him to greet and embrace him at the start and end of the ceremony, Benedict removed his zucchetto as a sign of respect and also to show that there is only one reigning Pope, Tornielli says.  

Tornielli also quoted Benedict XVI's words in a letter he sent recently to his former colleague Hans Kung, in which he said: “I'm grateful to be bound by a great identity of views and a heartfelt friendship with Pope Francis. Today, I see my last and final job to support his pontificate with prayer." Some have apparently tried to twist those words, too. In response, Benedict told Tornielli: “Professor Küng quoted the content of my letter to him word for word and correctly."

He ended by saying he hoped he had answered the questions in “a clear and adequate way”.


Vatican Insider report: