In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed
his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping
down as pontiff, and he
defended taking the title “pope emeritus.”

In two private letters from the retired pope to German
Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for
Historical Sciences, the pope defended the way he handled his resignation and
warned the cardinal of the negative impact his public comments could have.

The German newspaper, Bild, obtained copies of the
letters written in November 2017, but blurred Cardinal Brandmuller’s name in photos. The New York Times
named the cardinal and also published translated excerpts from the letters
Sept. 20.

The first letter from the retired pope was a response to a
comment Cardinal Brandmuller made in a lengthy interview with the German
newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Oct. 28, 2017.

The interviewer had asked what
the cardinal thought about the “construction” of “pope
emeritus” — the title the retired pope has taken on. The cardinal
responded that the figure of a “pope emeritus” never existed in the
church’s history and having a pope come along and overturn 2,000 years of tradition,
“floored not just us cardinals.”

Referring to that portion of the newspaper interview, the
pope wrote that Cardinal Brandmuller should certainly be aware that other popes
had — though rarely — stepped down.

Pope Benedict wrote that by using the title “pope
emeritus,” he would be away from the media spotlight and make it
thoroughly clear there was just one pope.

“If you know of a better way, and therefore think
that you can judge the (title) chosen by me, please tell me,” the retired
pope wrote.

In the second letter, the pope acknowledged the cardinal
responding to his first letter, and he said he was grateful that it seemed the
cardinal would no longer discuss his resignation in public.

“I can very well understand the deep-seated pain
that the end of my papacy has caused you and many others,” Pope Benedict
wrote. “However, for some people and — it seems to me — also for you,
the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my
resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole.”

such an attitude, he wrote, his whole papacy “is now being devalued
and conflated with sadness about the situation in which the church currently
finds itself.”

Cardinal Brandmuller had already postulated the idea that an
“emeritus” pope figure could threaten church unity in his essay,
“Renuntiatio papae:
Some Historical Reflections,” published online in July 2016.

Cardinal Brandmuller was also one of four cardinals, including U.S. Cardinal
Raymond L. Burke, who publicly released in September 2016 a critical set of
questions, known as “dubia,” asking Pope Francis for clarification about his
teaching on the family.

Pope Benedict, a noted theologian, had described his
decision to be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years as the result of intense prayer and an
examination of his conscience before God.

In the last two days of his pontificate, he pledged
obedience to his successor and noted that he was leaving the “active
exercise of the (Petrine) ministry.” While promising to remain
“hidden” in retirement, he also said he was “not returning to
private life” but would belong “always and totally to everyone, to
the whole church” and “remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s

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