The book about Jesus isn’t about the past. It doesn’t even mention this single person who is the Savior. Instead, it talks about the future. Christ was alive, but he lived. This book makes it possible to connect with Christ today. I don’t simply read about what happened. Yes, something happened. But what happened is meaningful for me and everyone else who reads it. It also has significance for my faith life. That, I believe, is decisive in the sense that Pope Benedict Joseph Ratzinger does not minimize, remove or skim anything from the faith that the Church professes. That, to me, is what remains. I have reread the first volume many times. I also have reread it several times to help me through certain seasons in my life. It’s very useful and a great spiritual nourishment.
What did you see in him? What was his way of living?
His parents passed the faith to him in a natural and very normal manner. It had a strong influence on him. He was able to take the lessons he learned from his parents, and then from his teachers, who were his spiritual teachers. What he had learned in this way became his own faith life. I had always felt the impression, and I don’t think I’m the only one, that the words of professor Ratzinger and Bishop Ratzinger, Archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict were not to be recited as part of the office. It was his belief and what he wanted others to believe.
Is a pope allowed to pray, or is it silent?
It all depends on how well you manage your time. It all depends on how you manage your time. Not just the time I may have left but also the time that I have already scheduled for when I plan my days.
As a cardinal and pope, what I shared with him was the fact that we had regular prayer times. There were exceptions to this rule, such as when we were on vacation. Prayer times were sacred.
That meant Holy Mass, breviary and Rosary, as well as meditation. These were set times and I had to keep them. He stated that God always comes first. The Kingdom of God must be sought first. Everything else will follow.” It sounds simple, but it is a good one. It’s not easy to keep to this. “But it’s true because it is, and you have to make sure it stays that way.”
Saints are role models in our Christian faith. Who was Pope Benedict’s favorite saint?
He loved St. Joseph but was soon joined by St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure and St. Augustine. This is because he had spent a lot of time studying these great figures and was able to see how they enriched his intellectual and spiritual life.
The Virgin Mary is the No. 1 among the women, so as not to exclude men. Of course, 1. Then I would add St. Teresa of Avila. She, with her intellectual and spiritual strength and power, gave a testimony that he found extremely impressive. You won’t believe this, but there’s little St. Therese the Child Jesus.
Mother Teresa is one of the most modern examples. Her simplicity and conviction make her a great choice. She lived a life that was more than a lecture on theology, fundamental theology, or any other subject. He was influenced by her life of the Gospel.
He was close to Mother Teresa, didn’t?
Yes, he did meet her at the Katholikentag [Catholic Day] in Freiburg in 1978. I was there as well. He was just an archbishop for one year and I had been in seminary for one year. Mother Teresa was present in Freiburg’s Cathedral with Joseph Ratzinger, the cardinal of Munich, Freising and Freising.
How did Joseph Ratzinger and Pope Benedict shape the Church?
In the homily marking the beginning of his pontificate he stated that he did not have a program of governance or an ecclesiastical plan when he took over his office. He was simply trying to proclaim God’s will and to meet the challenges of today according to God’s will. He wanted to give his all. Because events happened at an incredible pace back then, even in difficult circumstances, a program would not have been useful. His greatest strength was his ability to adapt to change. He was quick to spot problems and knew that faith had to answer them. He provided a solution that was not only theologically justified but also convincing.
That is why I believe that his greatest contribution, his great support to the believers was the word. The word was his greatest weapon, his most powerful “weapon”, as we have spoken before. How “martial”! He could use the word, and with it he could inspire and fill people’s hearts.
What were his greatest challenges during his pontificate?
From the beginning, it was clear that “relativism” was the greatest challenge.
Relativism says that you must be against tolerance. You don’t tolerate any other convictions (that is, within Christianity as far as the issue of ecumenism goes — you don’t tolerate other religions and you think little about them). But that’s false. Tolerance is when I accept everyone’s faith and their convictions. It doesn’t mean I devalue my faith. I believe in the faith and have received it to pass it on. It’s quite the opposite! It was relativism. Then we got to the question of faith and reason. This was one of his strengths.
The whole issue of abuse was presented to him unexpectedly and in a very powerful manner. This challenge came in a way that one could not have imagined. He had been a cardinal in this regard, and he was able to answer the first questions, communicate with the USA, and handle the first problems. I was already a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 2 years. I can recall very clearly how he dealt with this and how he managed to overcome resistance from within. Although it was difficult, he did it very well and displayed a determined and courageous spirit that would be helpful later in his pontificate.
He used to say that there were many important topics but that the most important was his faith in God. That conviction is what shaped his preaching, his papacy, and his ministry: I must proclaim my faith. This is the most important. While others may be able to do other things, the primary goal and main task of the pope are precisely those. He is the first witness and will always be that.
The proclamation God was the central point of his pontificate.
It is exactly, if you allow me to summarize it this way. … The proclamation and justification of the Gospel. God is more than an idea or a thought. God is our goal. Actually, Jesus of Nazareth, who was the center of our faith, was actually incarnated at a time. All we knew from that time was condensed in both the Gospels and the Scriptures, as well as the New Testament. This was his central and ultimate goal in the papal ministry.
Talking about abuse: Pope Benedict was recently mentioned in the report regarding abuse in the Archdioceses of Munich and Freising. These accusations were later denied, but still brought to his attention. How did he respond? What was his reaction to these accusations, especially considering all the effort he had put in to fight abuse?
As a prefect, he was faced with accusations from the USA at the end 1980s and beginning of 1990s. We also mentioned that he stood firm against both internal and external resistance. The same unambiguous and clear stance was taken as a pope. There are many examples.
It was a shock to him when he was accused of handling sexual abuse cases in his time as Archbishop of Munich, Freising (1977-1982).
When asked if he would answer questions about the investigation that examined the management of successions of archbishops from Cardinal [Michael von] Faulhaber up to the actual archbishop, he said yes.
He said, “I’m here, I have nothing to hide.” One could have guessed that he was hiding some kind of secret.
We were asked many questions by them, and he replied to all of them. He was certain he had not done any wrong. He made every detail he could recall; the entire report is his. We made a small mistake in the preparation of our statement. It wasn’t a mistake by Pope Benedict, but an oversight by one of our collaborators. Benedict immediately apologized. He claimed that it was his error, that he had entered the wrong date regarding whether he was present or absent at a meeting.
It was immediately published, and it was immediately corrected. Unfortunately, the story that the pope had lied remained. He was then called a liar, which was the only thing that shocked him.
It is simply false. The sent a personal letter. He stated that this was the final word on the matter and that he would not comment further after that letter. He doesn’t need to be believed or believed by anyone who doesn’t. However, anyone who examines the facts objectively and without bias will find that the accusation of him being a liar simply isn’t true. It is also infamous.
He was shocked by the accusation. It was especially shocking because it was made by someone who doesn’t do great work in the moral realm. It was so moralizing, one must say: It’s and will continue to be shameful! However, that wasn’t the end of the story. Pope Benedict stated, “I didn’t hide anything, and I said what is necessary.” There’s nothing else to add.
He could only appeal to reason and goodwill. There was nothing else. That’s what he wrote in the letter. He would need to answer to God for everything else.
What you actually say is what’s in the files and documents. Anyone can deconstruct it without malicious intent and reveal the truth.
As I mentioned, impartiality is a prerequisite.
This applies not only to this case but also in principle and especially in this instance. Whoever is willing to act impartially has either recognized it or will.
Was Pope Benedict happy? Did he feel fulfilled and content in his own life journey?
Out of all the adjectives that you have mentioned, fulfillment is my favorite. He seemed to me like someone who was truly fulfilled by the work he did. He chose to make his priesthood a priority. Teaching was his first vocation and first love. He became a professor because of that. It was his destiny.
He became a bishop and eventually he arrived in Rome. This was in keeping with his intellect and his nature. As I have already stated, he never expected or desired to become pope. He accepted it and, as far as I could tell, he was truly fulfilled and willing to do everything.
He gave of himself. It was what was most important to him. It wasn’t something that he had learned somewhere else. He was passing something that he had created, from his life, his intellect honesty, and his faith. Let’s go back to the spark image: to make it spark and scatter a fire.
What did he say about his family?
All the things I can read and all the things he said, and all that I have heard, I must say that he spoke with love and great respect for his parents, especially their three children. His father was a policeman, his family didn’t have a lot of money and all three children received a great education. What was most important was the example they set for their children in faith. This was the foundation for all that followed, he said.
What of his words will you recall? What will you remember?
Let me tell you, it was difficult. I was in difficult situations, especially during his time as emeritus. There were moments when I thought, “Holy Father! It is beyond my ability to handle it! The Church is fighting against a brick wall. I don’t know if the Lord is asleep or not. He asked, “What’s the matter?” He replied, “You do know a lot about the Gospel, don’t ya? So the story goes that the Lord was sleeping in the boat on Galilee. The disciples were afraid because a storm was approaching, and waves were on the horizon. They woke him up, as they were unsure what to do. He said nothing, but ‘What’s the matter?’ Jesus spoke a few words to the storm to show that he was the Lord, regardless of the weather or the storms. Then Benedict told me, “Look, the Lord does not sleep!” If the disciples were afraid even when he was present, it is quite normal for them to be afraid. One thing is certain: He is always here and will remain there.
You must remember in all the trouble you are having now. Let me tell you, I do the right thing.
This is something, among many other things, that has deeply rooted itself in my heart and remains there.