The long-time personal aide to Benedict XVI has said the retired pope had hoped to stay in the papacy until 2014 but resigned a year earlier because of the World Cup.
Mgr Georg Gaenswein’s comments about Benedict, who stunned the world in February 2013 by announcing he would be the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, came in a speech the aide gave in Munich last month.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera carried excerpts on Sunday from the speech, which was delivered when Mgr Gaenswein presented The Last Conversations, a book based on interviews with Benedict XVI by German journalist Peter Seewald.
In his speech, Mgr Gaenswein said a doctor had told Benedict he could no longer take trans-Atlantic flights. That posed a dilemma, because as pontiff, Benedict would have been expected to appear at World Youth Day, with its latest edition at the time being organised for Rio de Janeiro.
At that time, World Youth Day gatherings were being held every three years, and by that timetable Brazil would have hosted the event in 2014.
“But World Youth Day that should have taken place in 2014 was moved because of the soccer World Cup,” which Brazil was hosting in 2014, the aide note.
“Otherwise he would have tried to resist until 2014,” Mgr Gaenswein added.
Benedict XVI , 89, now lives in a Vatican convent, stepped down from the papacy on February 28, 2013, five months before the World Youth Day gathering, which was attended by Pope Francis, who succeeded him as pontiff.
In the speech, Mgr Gaenswein said that in the early 1990s, Benedict, then in his role as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told John Paul II he could no longer work as the Vatican’s watchdog for doctrinal orthodoxy as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger had suffered a brain haemorrhage, prompting the request to resign the post, Mgr Gaenswein said, but John Paul “categorically refused his resignation.”
After Cardinal Ratzinger in 1994 suffered an embolism, vision in his left eye deteriorated, Mgr Gaenswein said.
“From that point on, thus, already years before his election” as pope, in 2005, “he saw very badly with his left eye. But he didn’t let it weigh him down. A semi-blind pope! Who would have ever known?” Mgr Gaenswein added.
The aide, who still assists Benedict XVI, expressed sadness that the churchman no longer can take the long walks that were part of a cherished routine.
“Today I see with my own eyes how that passionate stroller is able to complete day after day only ever shorter steps,” he said.