Pope Benedict XVI (1927-2022)

Christopher White writes:

Thousands of people from around the world began to pay their final respects to the late Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 2, as his body was transferred into St. Peter’s Basilica from the Vatican monastery where he resided for nearly ten years after his surprise resignation from the papacy in 2013.

The retired pope, who died on Dec. 31, arrived in the basilica at 7:15 a.m. Central European Time, where Italian Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica and vicar general for Vatican State, presided over a brief blessing of the body, before the church doors opened at 9:00 a.m.

Residents of Rome — including Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni — were among the first to pay their respects, soon joined by pilgrims and tourists alike.

John Allen writes:

Pope Benedict XVI, a gifted intellectual who aspired to be a teaching pope but who saw his papacy sometimes capsized by managerial crises, and who became the first pope to resign in almost 600 years, died Dec. 31 at the age of 95, after his successor, Pope Francis, had announced his final illness to the world the previous Wednesday….

With the benefit of hindsight, Benedict XVI now seems a towering “Pope of Ironies,” with three in particular standing out.

For most of his career, the theologian and prelate who became Benedict XVI had been seen as the great “Doctor No” of the Catholic Church from his perch as the Vatican’s doctrinal czar. There was no controversy in Catholicism for a quarter-century in which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger didn’t play a leading role, usually as the disciplinarian taking wayward theologians to task.

Yet once he became pope, Benedict pioneered “Affirmative Orthodoxy,” meaning the most upbeat and positive presentation possible of classic Catholic teaching. The idea was to emphasize the Catholic “yes,” rather than the church’s traditional catalogue of “no’s.”…

In addition, Benedict was little invested in management by temperament or training, having once openly confessed that “I don’t have the charism of governance.” He paid a steep price, not least with the surreal “Vatican leaks” affair that marred the latter stages of his papacy and, in the eyes of some observers, propelled Benedict towards resignation.

Yet in a second grand irony, this non-manager also launched historic management reforms on two key sources of scandal for Catholicism, child sexual abuse and the Vatican’s decidedly mixed record on money. He was the first pope to embrace a “zero tolerance” policy on abuse, and the first to open the Vatican to outside secular inspection of its accounts.

Benedict faced down strong internal opposition to do so, and by the end of his reign officials opposed to reform on either front had been driven largely underground. Though incomplete at the time his papacy ended, both these house-cleaning operations have been carried forward under Pope Francis….

In perhaps the most notable irony of all, a pontiff sometimes seen as arrogant and aloof was actually a man of striking personal humility.

Michael Sean Winters writes:

Pope Benedict’s legacy, then, is a mixed one. A shy man thrust into the limelight, he proved unequal to some of the administrative challenges of running a universal church even while many of his theological contributions will endure. He made mistakes, some of them large ones, but his integrity was beyond reproach. In retirement, Benedict was demonstrably loyal to Pope Francis, and if his loudest champions in the U.S, had followed his example, the Catholic Church in this country would be far less polarized.

Mostly, Pope Benedict will be remembered as a profoundly intelligent and prayerful man, called to leadership during a time of turmoil in a church, who was not really suited for such rough waters. Through those waters, he steered the barque of Peter faithfully, if not always successfully.

Stephen Schneck writes:

He was a brilliant theorist in his analysis of the structural challenges that today’s world poses to our faith and our church. His encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, ranks among the most compelling critical interpretations of modernity ever written — informed as it is not only by scripture, church teachings, and theology but also by philosophical hermeneutics, life philosophy, European social theory, and phenomenology. He grasped the depth and scope of the infection of materialism and subjectivism in the institutions of our current lives, discerning that virus at work in our economics, our social mores, our cultural expressions, and our politics. He saw its tendrils even in the constitutive processes of our contemporary self-understanding, our self-identity.

Given this, intellectually Benedict set the stage for the Pope Francis, which is too easily overlooked by both sides amidst the polarization of the church that accelerated after Benedict’s retirement. Evident in his encyclicals Fratelli Tutti and Laudato Si’, Francis is unmistakably indebted to Benedict’s interpretation of modernity.

Consider this remarkable passage from Caritas in Veritate:

While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those. knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human. Sec. 75

Paraphrasing what someone once said, however, theorists are hobbled to only interpret the world when the point is to change it. Benedict, the scholar, relied on the scholar’s tools of analysis, interpretation, and critique. He was a theorist at heart; his struggle was practice.

Andrea Tornielli writes:

The last words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were heard in the middle of the night by a nurse. It was around 3 in the morning of 31 December, several hours before he died. Joseph Ratzinger had not yet entered his final moments, and at that time his collaborators and assistants were alternating in his care. With him at that precise moment there was only one nurse who does not speak German. “Benedict XVI,” his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, recounts emotionally, “with just a whisper of a voice, but in a clearly distinguishable manner, said in Italian: ‘Lord, I love you!’ I was not there at the moment, but the nurse told me about it shortly afterwards. These were his last comprehensible words, because afterwards he was no longer able to express himself.”

“Lord, I love you!”, are words that are like a synthesis of the life of Joseph Ratzinger, who for years now had been preparing for his final, face-to-face encounter with his creator.