Interesting excerpts from the Pope Benedict "Last Testament" interview book:
Q: Do you experience the ‘dark nights’ of which the saints speak?
A: Not as intensely. Maybe because I am not holy enough to get so deep into the darkness. But when things just happen in the sphere of human events, where one says: ‘How can the loving God permit that?’, the questions are certainly very big questions. Then one must maintain firmly, in faith, that He knows better.
More and more it is a gift; you suddenly see something which was not perceptible before. You realize that you must be humble, you must wait when you can’t enter into a passage of the Scriptures, until the Lord opens it up for you.
Q: What are your thoughts about your resignation?
A: One objection is that the papacy has been secularized by the resignation; that it is no longer a unique office but an office like any other. I had to accept that question, and consider whether or not functionalism would completely encroach on the papacy, so to speak. But similar steps had already been made with the episcopacy. Earlier, bishops were not allowed to resign. There were a number of bishops who said ‘I am a father and that I’ll stay’, because you can’t simply stop being a father; stopping is a functionalization and secularization, something from the sort of concept of public office that shouldn’t apply to a bishop. To that I must reply: even a father’s role stops. Of course a father does not stop being a father, but he is relieved of concrete responsibility. He remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a particular relationship which has responsibility, but not with day-to-day tasks as such. It was also this way for bishops. Anyway, since then it has generally come to be understood that on the one hand the bishop is bearer of a sacramental mission which remains binding on him inwardly, but on the other hand this does not have to keep him in his function for ever. And so I think it is also clear that the Pope is no superman and his mere existence is not sufficient to conduct his role; rather, he likewise exercises a function. If he steps down, he remains in an inner sense within the responsibility he took on, but not in the function. In this respect one comes to understand that the office of the Pope has lost none of its greatness, even if the humanity of the office is perhaps becoming more clearly evident.
Q: Pope Francis?
A: From ad limina visits and correspondence. I grew to know him as a very decisive man, someone who in Argentina would say very firmly, this is happening and this is not. I had not experienced this aspect of warmth, the wholly personal connection to the people; that was a surprise to me…
One person might be somewhat reserved, the other a little more forceful than one imagined. But I do think it is good that he approaches people so directly. Of course, I ask myself how long he will be able to maintain that. It takes a great deal of strength, two hundred or more handshakes and interactions every Wednesday, and so forth. But, let us leave that to the loving God.
Q: How did you deal with rejection while a young adult in the ministry?
A: I believe that it is dangerous for a young person simply to go from achieving goal after goal, generally being praised along the way. So it is good for a young person to experience his limit, occasionally to be dealt with critically, to suffer his way through a period of negativity, to recognize his own limits himself, not simply to win victory after victory. A human being needs to endure something in order to learn to assess himself correctly, and not least to learn to think with others.
Q: Were you still able to get any sleep [during your papacy]?
A: Yes, yes, that is non-negotiable for me. [Laughs] I’ll never let that be infringed upon. Seven or eight hours.
Q: Is the new internal split, then beginning within the Church, and basically enduring to this day, to be considered as part of the tragic nature of the Council?
A: I would say so, yes. The bishops wanted to renew the faith, to deepen it. However, other forces were working with increasing strength, particularly journalists, who interpreted many things in a completely new way. Eventually people asked, yes, if the bishops are able to change everything, why can’t we all do that? The liturgy began to crumble, and slip into personal preferences. In this respect one could soon see that what was originally desired was being driven in a different direction. Since 1965 I have felt it to be a mission to make clear what we genuinely wanted and what we did not want.
Q: Did you have pangs of conscience, as a participant, one who shares responsibility?
A: One certainly asks oneself whether or not one did things rightly. Particularly when the whole thing unravelled, that was definitely a question one posed. Cardinal Frings later had intense pangs of conscience. But he always had an awareness that what we actually said and put forward was right, and also had to happen. We handled things correctly, even if we certainly did not correctly assess the political consequences and the actual repercussions. One thought too much of theological matters then, and did not reflect on how these things would come across.
Q: Was it a mistake to convoke the Council at all?
A: No, it was right for sure. One can ask whether it was necessary or not, OK. And from the outset there were people who were against it. But in itself it was a moment in the Church when you were simply waiting on something new, on a renewal, a renewal of the whole. This was not to be something coming only from Rome, but a new encounter with the worldwide Church. In that respect the time was simply nigh.
Q: You once said that you got to know this great man [Pope John Paul II] better by concelebrating the Holy Mass with him than by analysing his books. Why was that?
A: Yes, well, if you concelebrated with him, you felt the inward proximity to the Lord, the depth of faith which he would then plunge into, and you really experienced him as a man who believes, who prays, and who is indeed marked by the Spirit. This was more the case than if you read his books, although they also gave an image of him, but they certainly didn’t let the whole of his personality energe.
He was a man who needed companionship, needed life, activity, needed encounters. I, however, needed silence more, and so on. But precisely because we were very different, we complemented each other well.
Q: Describe your vision impairment.
A: The day came, in 1984 I think, when I had a kind of embolism too, which spread to the whole eye. I was in Maria Eck hospital and went to the optician the very next day. It was already too late then, so my vision was very severely impaired. That was being treated for a long time, until finally – a third thing – macula [Macula lutea – also called ‘yellow spot’, a disease of the retina], so now I’m simply blind in the left eye.
A: Yes. I don’t even see light and dark.
Q: In the Vatican you never belonged to any cliques. You have an aversion to cronyism. Has your keeping a distance from the apparatus of power not earned you lots of enemies?
A: I don’t think so, actually. I’ve even had friends. Everyone knew that I don’t do any politicking, and that inhibits hostility. People know: he’s not dangerous.
Q: When Joseph Ratzinger emerged before the faithful on 19 April 2005 on the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica as St Peter’s 265th successor, he looked almost like a teenager. After the long suffering of his predecessor, people weren’t accustomed to seeing a Pope not sitting in a wheelchair, who was able to recite texts fluently and to the end. The Popes passing the baton could not have been more different. One was mystical and Marian, the other learned and Christocentric. Here the actor, the man of gesture who wooed the stage. There, the shy ‘worker in the vineyard of the Lord’, the man of the Word, who wanted to renounce the prizing of mere effects over substance. This was already the third conclave you’d witnessed. Was it different to the others?
A: Well, with the first two I was still among the young and little-known cardinals, a novice shooter, so to speak, and in that sense I was in a quiet position. Here I had the responsibility of dean of the College of Cardinals. That means you have to conduct the Pope’s funeral, you have to manage the preparations and then even have a responsibility in the conclave itself. At the end, it is the dean who asks the one selected whether or not he accepts. Through a good twenty years in Rome I was no longer an unknown quantity, my position this time was different from before. And finally, I was now seventy-eight years old, which was of course reassuring. If the bishops stop at seventy-five, you cannot hoist a seventy-eight-year-old onto the chair of Peter.
Q: Why did you not name yourself John Paul III?
A: I felt that would be inappropriate, because a standard had been set there which I couldn’t match. I could not be a John Paul III. I was a different character, cut from a different cloth; I had a different sort of charisma, or rather a non-charisma. Suddenly: Christ’s vicar on earth. What inner change was going on there? Yes, there was the thought: no, I need still more help from him. One knows: I really am not that. But if he lays the yoke on my shoulders, he must also help me bear it.
Q: You spoke of the cardinals’ ballot as the falling of a ‘guillotine’. Did you regret that later?
A: No, the feeling was just like that, a guillotine.
Q: Do you feel you were too much of a professor as bishop?
A: One only realizes afterwards that a professor is accused of approaching the contexts of life too theoretically, which is a danger when it comes to action. But he is gradually schooled in dealing with practical matters by the people around him, and this enables him to become something different; less theoretical and more capable of grasping practical tasks.
Q: Will it take centuries to Christianize the continent of Europe again? Were you deluding yourself to have preached there so much?
Q: It is not permissible simply to give up proclaiming the gospel. Indeed, it seemed completely absurd in ancient times that a couple of Jews went out and sought to win the great, learned and knowledgeable Graeco-Roman world for Christianity. There will always be great failures too. We do not know how Europe will develop, or the degree to which it will still be Europe if different strata of the population newly structure it. But to proclaim this Word, which bears power in itself, to build the future which makes the lives of human beings meaningful, that is independent of any calculation of success, and absolutely necessary. The Apostles could not make sociological investigations, that happens or it doesn’t, but they had to trust in the inner power of this Word. At first, very few, lowly, people joined. But then the circle grew. Of course the Word of Gospel can disappear from continents. Indeed we can see now that the Christian continents of the beginning, Asia Minor and North Africa, are no longer Christian. It can even disappear in places where it was dominant. But it can never remain unsaid; will never be unimportant.
Q: Were you too focused on debates on the “historical Jesus”?
A: If we no longer know Jesus, the Church is finished. And the danger that we will just destroy him and talk him to death with certain types of exegesis is overwhelming. Therefore I had to get a bit stuck in to the battles over the details. It is not sufficient just to interpret the texts spiritually with dogma. One must enter into the disputes, and do so indeed without losing oneself in the exegetical details, but go far enough to recognize that the historical method does not prohibit faith.
The question ‘is it really proven?’ comes to one again and again. But then I’ve had so many concrete experiences of faith, experiences of the presence of God, that I am ready for these moments and they cannot crush me.
Q: How was it with Obama?
A: A great politician of course, who knows what it takes to be successful, and has certain ideas that we cannot share, but he was not only a tactician to me, but certainly a reflective man too. I felt that he sought the meeting between us, and that he listened. What was generally impressive about these encounters was discerning that – although these people indeed think very differently to us on many issues – they certainly try to see what is right.
Q: How was the meeting with Putin?
A: Very interesting. We spoke with each other in German; he speaks perfect German. We didn’t go very deep, but I certainly believe that he is – a man of power of course – somehow affected by the necessity of faith. He is a realist. He sees how Russia suffers from the destruction of morality. Even as a patriot, as someone who wants Russia to have great power again, he sees that the destruction of Christianity threatens to destroy Russia. A human being needs God, he sees that quite evidently, and he is certainly affected by it inwardly as well. He has now even, as he gave the Papa [Pope Francis] an icon, made the sign of the cross and kissed it.
Q: Describe your papal visit to Berlin.
A: Berlin is somehow different to the Catholic tradition, and the city is an expression of the Protestant world. Catholicism is indeed there, and it is lived too, but it is somehow marginal. So it’s clear that one could not expect that Berlin would be like Madrid, or even like London or Edinburgh. There are other cities which are not at all Catholic, but the people are somehow different there . . .
Q: How did you find the meeting with Fidel Castro?
A: It was touching, somehow. He is of course old and unwell, but certainly very with it and he has vitality. I don’t think he has, on the whole, yet come out of the thought-structures by which he became powerful. But he sees that through the convulsions in world history, the religious question is being posed afresh. He even asked me to send him some literature. Did you do it? I sent him Introduction to Christianity, and one or two other things too. He is not a person with whom one must expect a major conversion, but a man who sees that things have gone differently, that he has to think and ask questions about the whole again.
Q: Pope Benedict, in the 1950s you predicted an enormous loss of faith across much of Europe. That won you a reputation as a pessimist. Today one sees how your vision of the ‘small Church’ which would lose many of her privileges, which would be opposed, and around which fewer and fewer believers in the strict sense would gather, has come true.
A: Certainly, yes. I would say the dechristianization continues.
Q: How do you see the future of Christianity today?
A: That we’re no longer coextensive with modern culture, the basic shape of Christianity is no longer determined, that is obvious. Today we live in a positivistic and agnostic culture, which shows itself more and more intolerant towards Christianity. In that sense, Western society, or Europe in any case, will no longer simply be a Christian society. Believers will have to strive all the more to continue to form and to bear the awareness of values and the awareness of life. A resolute faith among individual congregations and local churches will be important. The responsibility is greater.
Above all, we see how the dechristianization of Europe progresses, that in Europe things pertaining to Christianity are increasingly disappearing from the character of public life. So the Church must find a new kind of presence, must change her way of being present. There are seismic periodic changes in process. But we do not yet know at which precise point we can say that one era begins and another starts.
Q: You know the prophecy of Malachy, who in the Middle Ages predicted a list of future popes even to the end of time, at least the end of the Church. According to this list, the papacy ends after your pontificate. Is that an issue for you, whether it can actually be that at least you are the last of a series of popes, as we have known the office so far?
A: Anything can be. This prophecy probably arose in circles around Philip Neri. And he simply wanted to say – in contrast to the Protestants, who were then saying the papacy is at an end – through an endlessly long series of popes yet to come: ‘No, it is not at an end.’ But you don’t have to conclude that it really ceases then. His series was never going to be long enough.
Q: But are there not also lonely hours, in which one can feel terribly alone inside?
A: Certainly, but because I feel so connected to the Lord, I’m therefore never entirely alone.
Q: He who believes is never alone?
A: Yes, genuinely. One simply knows, I’m not the one doing things. I also could not do it alone, He is constantly there.
Q: Were you happy then, being Pope?
A: [Laughs] Well, I would say so; I knew that I am carried, so I am grateful for many beautiful experiences. But it was always a burden too, of course.
Q: Your bishop motto comes to mind: ‘Co-worker of the truth’. How did you actually come to that?
A: Like this: I had for a long time excluded the question of truth, because it seemed to be too great. The claim: ‘We have the truth!’ is something which no one had the courage to say, so even in theology we had largely eliminated the concept of truth. In these years of struggle, the 1970s, it became clear to me: if we omit the truth, what do we do anything for? So truth must be involved. Indeed, we cannot say ‘I have the truth’, but the truth has us, it touches us. And we try to let ourselves be guided by this touch. Then this phrase from John 3 crossed my mind, that we are ‘co-workers of the truth’. One can work with the truth, because the truth is person. One can let truth in, try to provide the truth with value. That seemed to me finally to be the very definition of the profession of a theologian; that he, when he has been touched by this truth, when truth has caught sight of him, is now ready to let it take him into service, to work on it and for it.
To be loved and to love another are things I have increasingly recognized as fundamental, so that one can live; so that one can say yes to oneself, so that one can say yes to another. Finally, it has become increasingly clear to me that God is not, let’s say, a ruling power, a distant force; rather he is love and he loves me – and as such, life should be guided by him, by this power called love.