In New Interview Benedict XVI Shares Motives for Resignation

Benedict XVI speaking on the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination, June 28, 2016.
Benedict XVI speaking on the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination, June 28, 2016. (photo: YouTube)

In a new interview, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said he was prompted to resign because there were many commitments he was “no longer able to accomplish” as Pope, and that he was unable to take any more long-haul flights.

Speaking to theologian Elio Guerriero in an interview published in the Italian daily La Repubblica Aug. 24, Benedict XVI said after travelling to Mexico and Cuba in 2012, he “did not feel able to make such an intense trip as the World Youth Day of 2013 in Rio de Janeiro”.

St. John Paul II, he added, had established the World Youth Day program such that “the physical presence of the Pope was essential.”

Guerriero did not hold back from asking some searching questions of Benedict, beginning by recalling that on his visit to Germany in 2011, the Pope Emeritus had said: “One cannot give up on God” and, “Where there is God, there is future.” Was he therefore not sorry to resign in the Year of Faith which was taking place at the time of his resignation?

Benedict replied: “Of course I had in my heart the desire to complete the Year of Faith and to write the encyclical on faith that was to conclude the process that began with the encyclical Deus Caritas Est. In the words of Dante, the love that moves the sun and other stars pushes us, leads us to the presence of God who gives us hope and a future.”

He added: “In a crisis situation, the best attitude is to stand in front of God with a desire to regain the faith in order to continue on the path of life. The Lord is happy to accommodate our desire, to give us the light that guides us on the pilgrimage of life. It is the experience of the saints, of St. John of the Cross or Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”

But in 2013, he added, “there were numerous commitments that I no longer thought I was able to accomplish."

Asked which ones, Benedict replied: "In particular, the date of World Youth Day had already been set, which was to take place in the summer of 2013 in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.”

He said in this regard he came to two very precise convictions. After traveling to Mexico and Cuba, he said he didn’t feel able to fulfill such a challenging journey anymore, and that in line with the program set out by John Paul II for World Youth Day, the physical presence of the Pope was essential.

“This was a circumstance for which the resignation was a must for me,” he said. “I then had some confidence that even without my presence, the Year of Faith would still go well. In fact the faith is a grace, a generous gift of God to believers. I therefore had the firm conviction that my successor, as it then happened, would also bring the will of the Lord, the initiative that I had started, to a good end.”

Asked when he came to the decision to resign, Benedict said he was moved by the trip to Mexico and Cuba, but that he ”realized” then he was “no longer able to face the future in transoceanic flights due to the problem of the time difference.”

“Of course I also talked about these problems with my doctor, Prof. Dr. Patrizio Polisca,” he said. “It became clear that I would never be able to take part in World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2013”, he said, pointing out the problem of the time difference. “So from then on I had to decide in a relatively short time on the date of my retirement."

He was then asked about his decision to stay within the walls of the Vatican after his retirement. Benedict said he was familiar with the Mater Ecclesiae monastery and felt it was a place where he could pray as John Paul II had intended it as a place of prayer and contemplation.

Guerriero then turned to the subject of the famous picture of lightning striking St. Peter’s basilica on the day of his resignation announcement. Benedict knew of the photograph and said “I should have really worried had I not been convinced, as I said at the beginning of my pontificate, to be a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.

“From the start I was aware of my limitations,” he continued, “and I accepted them, as I have always tried to do in my life, in a spirit of obedience.”

He said there were “more or less great difficulties” during his pontificate, but there were also “many graces.”  

“I realized that all I had to do I could not do alone and so I was almost forced to put myself in the hands of God, to trust in Jesus which, as I wrote my book about him, I felt bound by an old and ever deeper friendship”.

“Then there was the Mother of God,” Benedict continued, “the mother of hope who was a sure support in difficulties and I felt closer in the recitation of the holy Rosary and visits to Marian shrines. Finally there were the saints, my lifelong traveling companions: St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure, my spiritual masters, but also St Benedict whose motto 'prefer nothing to Christ' I became increasingly familiar with, and St. Francis of Assisi, the first to realize that the world is the mirror of the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying."

Guerriero is the author of a new biography on Benedict XVI called “Servant of God and Humanity.” The book will be released Aug. 30 in Italian; an English edition has yet to be announced.