Benedict XVI To Reveal More Details of His Life and Pontificate in New Book

(photo: Screenshot)

Advance details have emerged of some of the contents of a new book interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, due to be published in various languages tomorrow. The English edition is not expected until November.

The new book, called “Benedict XVI - Last Testament: In His Own Words” by German author Peter Seewald, is said to be a mix of autobiography, testimony and written defense. The aim is to help Joseph Ratzinger explain himself and his pontificate to the world, according to its publishers.

The German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung, which has seen an advance copy of the book, says Benedict discusses “delicate” matters such as the strengths and weaknesses of his pontificate, cliques, religious doubts and Pope Francis.

It is “written in an easy style and is rich in anecdotes”, the newspaper says, and refers to many facts and stories which anyone familiar with Benedict and his pontificate will probably already be aware of.

For instance, he discusses how much his election as Pope burdened him and how he knew precisely the dark side of the Church having been prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pedophile priests, murky finances and corruption were the “filth” in the Church which he wanted to eliminate, but they were hard to get rid of. "Of course I wanted to do more than I could," the Pope Emeritus says. During his pontificate, hundreds of pedophile priests were dismissed and he says he smashed a homosexual network in the Vatican. "Whether that has formed again, I do not know," he says.

He goes on to say that he underestimated the political significance of his 2006 Regensburg speech which upset much of the Muslim world, but says Vatican officials gave him poor advice ahead of his decision in 2010 to lift the excommunication on Bishop Richard Williamson. He later learned that the former SSPX bishop had denied the extent of the Holocaust — a revelation that led to a “huge propaganda campaign” being “unleashed against me,” he says. 

The former Archbishop of Munich makes some strong judgments about the Catholic Church in Germany, long criticized for being wealthy but lacking faith. He complains about "a well-established and highly paid Catholicism" there, along with an "over dependence on unholy bureaucracy", a "theorization of faith" and "lack of a living dynamism."

The newspaper report says Benedict is more gentle when he talks about Francis. He says his successor’s election completely surprised him, and initially unsettled him, but cordial dealings with him have since made him happy. Francis emphasizes different things, but there are no contradictions, he believes.  

In an interview this week in Die Zeit, Seewald said Benedict “was in love as a student, and it was very serious" and that it was a “a serious problem for him.”

“In the years after the war, there were female students for the first time. He was a very smart guy, a good-looking young man, an aesthete, who wrote poetry and read Hermann Hesse ... He had an impact on women and was impacted by them," Seewald said, adding that the former pontiff's vow of celibacy had been a tough decision for him.

The German author, who has written several well known books already with Joseph Ratzinger, including “Light of the World” when Benedict was Pope, said he had the impression Benedict “lived in prayer and for prayer,” but that he was very interested in the news.

"The Italian news was an imperative for him. His brother once thought that Joseph Ratzinger was a news addict," Seewald says in the interview, adding that he was also a big fan of "Don Camillo and Peppone," a series of films about an Italian Catholic priest and a communist town mayor.

Benedict felt mentally and physically drained from his duties as the head of the Church, Seewald said, but did not quit for political reasons. The German author said that Benedict did not expect to live very long after his resignation, but a certain kind of resilience always kept him going.

"Ratzinger has an ability to bounce back," the author said. "One day you think, this was the last visit. The next time you realize he has gathered new strength."