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Benedict thinks Church unity always prevails. Let’s hope he’s right

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Pope Emeritus has broken his silence for a second time

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has granted an exclusive interview to Corriere della Sera’s weekly magazine. It is the second major departure in recent months, from his promise to fade silently into the background and embrace a life of quasi-monastic discipline after his resignation became effective. The first departure was in April, when he brought out some “notes” on the abuse crisis in a German publication for clerics.

The interview conducted by Massimo Franco does not resolve the question of why this happened. 

To hear Franco tell it, getting in to see Benedict did take some doing. The things he describes seeing from the car on his way— first the IOR, then the square before the Secret Archive, the gargantuan palazzo that serves as the head office of the Governatorate of the Vatican City State, and the “squarish outline of the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse” where Pope Francis lives, “down there to the left, seemed so far away” — suggest he took the long, scenic route  to Mater Ecclesiae.

Franco talks about abortive attempts to introduce legislation that would bind the pope emeritus to public silence, forbidden any former bishop of Rome with emeritus status from making public appearances, and restricted travel. He also describes an excellent rapport between the reigning pontiff and the pope emeritus — who does not need to be convinced to stay put, apparently — and says Francis consults his predecessor perhaps more frequently than is commonly realized.

There’s nothing explosive in the piece — not even anything too terribly surprising — but the fact of the thing does raise eyebrows. 

“The Pope is one, he is Francis.” That is what Franco says “[Francis’s] adversaries, often conservatives desperately in search of a word from Benedict that might sound like a critique of [Francis], have not failed to hear” from the pope emeritus. Of course Francis is the pope. It goes without saying — or should — but here we are.

Then again, “The unity of the Church is always in danger,” Benedict says. “[It’s been that way] for centuries. It’s always been that way,” he says. He’s right. “In the end, the sense that the Church is and must remain united has always prevailed,” Franco further quotes the Pope emeritus as saying. “Her unity has always been stronger than the struggles and internal wars.” 

Aside from a couple of wry remarks about Italy in the lede — to the effect that it is a beautiful place, but rather chaotic, and loveable as vacation spot but less so politically — those are the only direct quotes the piece carries from Benedict. The takeaway might be that we have a sideways admission we’re in a crisis now. 

Then again, on Benedict’s premises — which are the only sane and reasonable ones available to anyone with even briefly acquainted with Church history — we always are. Only, the fact of Benedict’s resignation has added a wrinkle to the thing, which doesn’t really affect the cloth, but has proved tough to iron out. 

The thing is done, though for reasons having very little to do with the personalities directly involved, one wonders how many people still think it was a good idea.