In concrete terms, perhaps very little as it relates to the real reasons behind his renouncement of the papacy, but circumstantially, we can infer quite a lot. With this in mind, please allow me to indulge in a bit of informed speculation.
Benedict’s announcement was met with two primary reactions from the cardinals to whom he was speaking, as well as from among various members of the sacred hierarchy and others across the globe.
On the one hand, pretty much everyone expressed shock, and I am certain that in most cases that reaction was entirely sincere.
That said, I do not doubt for even a moment that there were any number of clerics, particularly members of the Curia, who looked straight into the television cameras to express their surprise, when in truth they had played an active role in coercing Pope Benedict to take his leave.
The other most common reaction coming from Rome and elsewhere, especially in less-than-traditional quarters, was a near endless stream of blather (more properly, “spin”) touting the sheer humility of this pope who courageously decided to step aside for the good of the Church.
In hindsight, this was but the opening act for the Cirque du Humilité that burst onto the Roman stage with the elevation of Jorge Bergoglio.
Is it merely coincidental that the suddenly “humble” abdicator’s successor immediately undertook to implement an unprecedented program of papal humility-on-display, with everything from worn out shoes to shoddy vestments, to pedestrian living quarters and compact cars serving as props?
I doubt it.
Oddly enough, in the weeks following Benedict’s announcement, only a relative few were wondering aloud if perhaps he was in fact fleeing for fear of the very “wolves” he had mentioned in his inaugural homily. And yet, they had been howling at Benedict’s doorstep for quite some time.
One of the first signs of trouble among the “domesticated” variety (those who operate from within the Church) made itself known less than a year-and-a-half into Benedict’s pontificate following his now infamous Regensburg Lecture.
In addition to sparking a violent Muslim backlash, the address was met with heavy criticism from certain churchmen, including one Cardinal-Archbishop who said, “These statements will serve to destroy in twenty seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years.”
Is it merely coincidental that the above mentioned Prince is now known as Pope Francis, a pope so determined to court favor with the Muslims that he even goes so far as to actively encourage them to hold fast to their false religion?
I doubt it.
Pope Benedict XVI, in spite of whatever shortcomings he may have had from a traditional perspective (e.g., Assisi III, the “continuity” illusion, his failure to celebrate the traditional Mass in public even once), committed what the neo-modernist cabal in post-conciliar Rome considers an unforgiveable sin; he showed a willingness to render papal authority in the manner of a Sovereign, when clearly everyone who is anyone in the Eternal City knows darn well that the church-of-man playbook now firmly in place requires the pontiff to govern according to unwritten rule number one: collegiality.
Pope Francis has made no bones about his desire to promote collegiality, even to the point of calling for “genuine doctrinal authority” and “juridical status” for episcopal conferences. (cf Evangelii Gaudium 32)
Is it merely coincidental that Pope Benedict’s successor is so driven?
I doubt it.
So, what specifically did Pope Benedict XVI do in the way of overstepping his bounds as primus inter pares (first among equals); landing himself in water so hot that he felt he had no choice but to end his days in seclusion?
Primarily, three things, as I see it.
First, he issued Summorum Pontificum.
Had he simply treated the “old Mass” as a sentimental attachment to be tolerated, rather than as a gift to be propagated, his own traditional leanings in matters liturgical could have perhaps been overlooked by the wolves, but as it was, he incited their fury.
As memory serves, one of the more vocal critics of Summorum Pontificum was the Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Martini, the then retired Archbishop of Milan who said in an interview shortly before his death on August 31, 2012:
“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.”
Pope Francis, who suggested in his first address to the Roman Curia that the Church is in danger of becoming a “heavy bureaucratic customs house,” has eschewed nearly every sign of “pomp” associated with the papacy from the very moment he first appeared on the balcony at St. Peter’s.
Is it merely coincidental that Pope Benedict’s successor, another Jesuit, not only is so impassioned but also just happens to claim Carlo Martini as his role model?
I doubt it.
Secondly, Pope Benedict turned up the heat under his Throne considerably by lifting the excommunications from the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, and this in the very same year that he decreed the “Heroic Virtues” of Venerable Pope Pius XII.
Both of these acts, together with Summorum Pontificum two years earlier, amounted to an anti-Semitic trifecta in the minds of many a Jew and their progressive con frères within the Church; brothers in arms in the cause of creating an institution only a Mason could love.
While much of the dust-up concerned the comments of a now former SSPX Bishop relative to the Holocaust, the entire affair was treated as an occasion to proclaim the Jewish people off-limits in terms of evangelization.
Pope Francis raised eyebrows in saying, “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked,” (cf Evangelii Gaudium 247) as if their rejection of Christ amounts to anything less than a rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Is it merely coincidental that Pope Benedict’s successor not only boasts a history of synagogue visits and inter-worship with Jews, but has also co-authored a book with his rabbi-best-friend; the same with whom he prayed during Sukkot and Shabbat at the Vatican, a papal first?
I doubt it.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Pope Benedict all but signed his own walking papers the moment he set in motion the so-called “Doctrinal Discussions” with the Society of St. Pius X.
Imagine, the Roman Pontiff suggesting that these “traditionalists,” with their attachment to the doctrine of the Faith as it was taught without confusion prior to the Council and their insistence upon the Social Kingship of Christ, have something of value to offer the Church!
Pope Francis has repeatedly targeted those Catholics who dare to imagine that Christ is Sovereign and Ruler, at one point even alleging that such “triumphalistic” Catholics “do not believe in the Risen Lord and want to make theirs a more majestic resurrection than that of the real one.”
Is it merely coincidental that Pope Benedict’s successor has a kindly word and a warm embrace for every member of the human family, regardless of whether or not they reject Our Lord Jesus Christ and oppose His Holy Church, with one glaring exception; those tradition-minded Catholics toward whom he has repeatedly hurled insult after ignominious insult?
I doubt it.
With all of this in mind, I cannot but draw the following conclusions, speculative though they may be:
- Pope Benedict XVI was driven from office in some fashion or form, and whatever threat loomed had he remained on the Throne must have been truly terrible; such that it would have shaken the faith of many.
While we may never know what that threat actually was (and perhaps still looms), its power to exert history-changing force upon persons and events can be discerned in the swiftness with which what appeared to be the SSPX’s imminent reconciliation in June of 2012 (thanks to Pope Benedict’s own initiative) inexplicably fell apart at the eleventh hour.
All indications are that something was, shall we say, suggested to the pope that caused him to do a stunning about face, and whatever that something was may very well have played a part in his decision to abdicate.
If Cardinal Bertone is to be believed, this coincides precisely with the timeline of events.
According to CWN:
In an interview with the Italian daily Il Giornale on the anniversary of the resignation, Cardinal Bertone said that Pope Benedict had made up his mind to step down by the middle of 2012.
Is it merely coincidental…
You get the point. Only with great effort can one avoid the sense that a considerable degree of behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the part of Benedict’s enemies played a critical role in his departure, and necessarily, therefore, the arrival of his successor.
- In spite of Pope Benedict’s claim that he lacked the “strength of mind and body … to adequately fulfill the [Petrine] ministry,” with every passing day this reveals itself ever more clearly to have been nothing more than an excuse.
According to a recent article in the Telegraph, the former pope is used to “rising daily at 5.30am and filling his time with piano practise to improve his Mozart, meeting old friends, praying, tending a kitchen garden, reading the Vatican’s daily newspaper and watching the evening news on TV.”
This is hardly the image of a man too weakly to reign.
Oh, sure, it has been noted that he looks refreshed after a year in seclusion, but arguably this has as much to do with creating distance between himself and his extraordinarily tenacious enemies than leaving behind the ordinary, albeit substantial, demands of the Petrine Office.
- While many, including me, were initially hopeful that Benedict was stepping aside confident that the stage was set for a likeminded, more vigorous, successor to carry on in similar fashion, the exact opposite appears to have been true.
The only mystery in this tale of two Pontiffs that can rival the real reason behind Pope Benedict’s decision to abandon his family is how he ever got elected in the first place. I would suggest that those who are looking for signs of Divine influence on the proceedings of a papal conclave need look no further than the elevation of Josef Ratzinger in 2005.
As for conclave 2013, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Holy Ghost had more influence on the outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII.
In any event, those who drove Pope Benedict into early retirement appear to have done so in the knowledge that they had little or nothing to fear.
The surprisingly speedy fashion with which the cardinal-electors chose Jorge Bergoglio suggests to me that the wolverines entered the conclave confident that they had already secured the voting block necessary to push forward their prelate of choice; a man who could be counted upon to dutifully go about untying the various “knots” of the Benedictine papacy.
- While Benedict projected an air of regal confidence, his chosen successor would actively seek opportunities to take on the appearance of a “regular Joe.”
- While Benedict was unafraid to confront Muslim violence, his chosen successor would honor Islam, using the occasion of his first Apostolic Exhortation to insist that it is “opposed to every form of violence.”
- While Benedict was willing, on occasion, to rule in the manner of a Sovereign, his chosen successor would be the “Bishop of Rome” committed to making collegiality a priority.
- While Benedict promoted the traditional liturgy, his chosen successor would not only strip Papal Masses of their splendor, he would even take steps to criminalize “crypto-Lefebvrian” tendencies.
- While Benedict was willing to risk insulting the Jews as an acceptable “side-effect” of good governance, his chosen successor would bend over backward to affirm them.
- While Benedict was sympathetic to traditionalists (otherwise known as Catholics), his chosen successor would excoriate them at every given opportunity
That chosen successor, of course, is Pope Francis, and the masterminds of Benedict’s demise, the wolves, are now licking their chops in anticipation of the goods he’s expected to deliver.