Ratzinger’s testament

VATICAN CITY. In his spiritual testament he encourages us to “remain firm in the faith”, which can and must always dialogue with reason and science. He affirms that “the Church, with all her insufficiencies, is truly the Body of Christ”. And he asks for “heartfelt forgiveness to those I have wronged”. The day before yesterday “the humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard”, as Joseph Ratzinger presented himself to the world as Pontiff, ended his day at the age of 95. Benedict XVI, the Pope who clamorously descended from the throne of Peter in February 2013, at 9.34 am on 31 December 2022 breathed his last in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, surrounded by those who have always looked after him: his private secretary Monsignor Georg Gaenswein and the four consecrated laywomen «Memores Domini»; in these days of illness, they have been joined by the doctors of the Vatican health service, including a friar very close to the Pope emeritus. Vatican sources report that the German Pontiff died “peaceful”, he passed away.

“Lord, I love you”: these are the last words, spoken in Italian, by Ratzinger on the night before he died (the Argentine newspaper La Nacion reveals them). A nurse collected them in the middle of the night, explains the editorial director of the Vatican Media, Andrea Tornielli, in Vatican News. «It was about 3 in the morning of December 31st. Ratzinger had not yet entered into agony, and at that moment his collaborators and assistants had taken turns». With him, at that moment, “there was only a nurse who doesn’t speak German. “Benedict XVI – recounts his secretary, Gänswein, moved – in a whisper, but in an easily distinguishable way, he said, in Italian: ‘Lord, I love you!’ I wasn’t there at the time, but the nurse told me shortly after. Were he last words of him understandable of him, because subsequently he was no longer able to express himself ”». The Vatican correspondent of Tv2000, the CEI broadcaster, explains that the fatal meltdown was caused by fever and kidney failure. Gaenswein immediately telephoned Pope Francis, who rushed within minutes and blessed the body of his predecessor.

Since this morning Ratzinger’s body has been in St. Peter’s Basilica (closed at night) for the greeting of the faithful. The funeral will be celebrated on Thursday at 9.30 in St. Peter’s Square, presided over by Jorge Mario Bergoglio: «According to the wish of the Pope Emeritus – communicates the director of the Press Office of the Holy See Matteo Bruni – they will take place in the name of simplicity. They will be solemn but sober.”

The spiritual testament

On the last evening of 2022, the text with the spiritual bequests of the Pope emeritus was released from Oltretevere: «Remain firm in the faith! Don’t get confused! Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life, and the Church, with all his insufficiencies, is truly his body”. He wrote it in the summer of 2006, and it has never changed. It is a streamlined text, in German, in which, among other things, she thanks and also mentions his affections and his Bavaria. To all “those to whom he has somehow wronged”, he asks “heartfelt forgiveness”. Reflect on the dialogue between reason and faith. The sciences seem «to be able to offer irrefutable results in contrast with the Catholic faith – he warns – I have experienced the transformations of the natural sciences since ancient times and I have been able to see how, on the contrary, apparent certainties against the faith have vanished, proving to be not science, but philosophical interpretations only apparently due to science»; just as, “moreover, it is in the dialogue with the natural sciences that even faith has learned to better understand the limit of the scope of its affirmations, and therefore its specificity”. He cites the many theses he studied, from the liberal to the Marxist one. And he affirms: “I have seen and continue to see how the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging again from the tangle of hypotheses”. And then, here is how he prepared himself for the end of his earthly “pilgrimage”: “I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord, despite all my sins and shortcomings, welcomes me into eternal homes”.

Gaenswein’s words

In an intervention for the German newspaper Bild, Gaenswein defends the Bishop Emeritus of Rome from various criticisms: «He was not an actor Pope and even less an insensitive papal automaton. He was and remained fully human even on the throne of Peter”. Benedict XVI was «absolutely Western», and embodied the richness of the Catholic tradition of the West like no other, argues Gaenswein (as reported by the SIR agency): «At the same time he so boldly opened the door to a new chapter in the history of the Church by taking off his Fisherman’s Ring (pontifical symbol, ed) of his own free will. There has never been a step like this before and it is not surprising, therefore, that some saw it as revolutionary, while others saw the papacy as demythologized – or simply more humane.’ The Secretary shares the emotions of Benedict XVI’s meeting with the victims of abuse in Malta in 2010: «The Pope listened in silence and comforted the troubled hearts of those affected. His mere presence and the tears he shed were capable of more than words. The shame of what had happened led to the affirmation of the Holy Father that he was doing everything possible to prevent similar cases from happening again”. And then, the renunciation of the pontificate: Benedict XVI did not resign for the betrayal of his butler or for vatileaks (documents stolen from the Pope and disseminated): that scandal was “too small for this, while this well-considered step of the millennium of Benedict XVI was much older. In an act of extraordinary audacity, he renewed this office and boosted it with his last strength. I am convinced that history will prove it.” And to Tg1 he says: «After the renunciation he never had a moment in which he doubted or said “I regret it”».

Young theologian at the Council

Born in Germany – indeed, in Bavaria – in 1927 into a simple and very Catholic family, ordained a priest with his brother Georg in 1951, doctor of theology two years later, since 1957 he has been a professor of dogmatic theology. A brilliant, young lecturer who teaches in Freising, Bonn, Munster, Tübingen, Regensburg. And he participates in the Second Vatican Council, accompanying the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne Josef Frings.

The guardian of faith

In 1977 Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Munich, and shortly after created him Cardinal, at only 50 years of age. John Paul II, in November 1981, called him back to Rome, to entrust him with the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the ancient Holy Office. Until Karol Wojtyla’s death in 2005, the two would work side by side, so different but complementary, in total mutual trust. With the request for the resignation of the Prefect repeatedly rejected by the Polish Pope, who wants him by his side until the last day.

A German in Auschwitz

On the death of John Paul II, against his expectations, the cardinals elect him Pope in less than 24 hours. He is 78 years old. He too will travel, like his predecessor, albeit with a shy and reserved character. In May 2006 he enters the place of absolute evil of the 20th century, the Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz. And there, the German Pope says: “In a place like this words fail, deep down there can only remain a stunned silence – a silence that is an inner cry to God: Why were you able to tolerate all this?”.

The shy panzerkardinal

They called him panzerkardinal, representing him as an indestructible conservative, hermetically sealed against homosexuality and priestly marriage, too much theologian who has distanced himself from the people, rigid, cynical and cold defender of doctrine and that’s it. He responds indirectly to this portrait by constantly speaking of “Christian joy”. Ratzinger is shy and witty at the same time. At the end of a meal, still cardinal, he refuses the digestif, but when he knows that it is Cardenal Mendoza brandy, he changes his mind: «So yes! He is the only cardinal who does no harm ».

Scandals in the Vatican

The last years of the pontificate are painfully marked by the scandals of pedophilia and vatileaks. He forcefully resurfaces the “filth” that Joseph Ratzinger had denounced in the Via Crucis at the Colosseum in 2005, the last of John Paul II. Benedict XVI carries out courageous acts, such as the very strict new rules against child abuse. And he introduces anti-money laundering regulations in the Vatican.

The affection between the two Popes

Some tensions open the «constitutional question» on the absence of a regulation of the institute of the pontiff emeritus. In any case Ratzinger repeatedly assures that his friendship with Pope Francis is strong and unbreakable. He feels “protected by his goodness”. And while his successor is under attack from some internal fronts, he reminds the new cardinals “of the value of fidelity to the Pope”. Francesco, who considers him the “wise grandfather”, wants him by his side several times. Ratzinger accepts, but without confusion. At the 2014 Consistory – Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo was to recount – «he wanted to sit on a simple chair next to the cardinals, and there was no way to make him change his position».

Ratzinger’s testament