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by Maria Antonietta Calabrò

Benedict XVI will be remembered as the Pope of the "already and not yet", the one who began the journey towards the Church of the Third Millennium, but did not finish it. Like Moses who came out of Egypt, but did not set foot in the Promised Land.

Born on Holy Saturday he wore this seal on himself. In the Catholic liturgy, Holy Saturday is the only day on which Mass is not celebrated, because Christ died but has not yet risen.

Yet, in a sense, he was Pope three times: he was the builder of the theology of the Papacy of John Paul II, his predecessor, the pope-politician who broke down walls; he was elected Supreme Pontiff against all odds, upon the death of Wojtyla; and was the first Pope emeritus in history.

The anti-relativist who relativized the Papacy.

As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger during the homily of the Missa pro eligendo pontifice that opened the Conclave that would have chosen him as the successor of John Paul II (2005), used words that would have been repeated many times by the Pope elected after him, Francis, who in 2016 proclaimed the Year of Mercy.

Ratzinger stated:

"The Messiah, speaking of himself, says that he is sent "to promulgate the Lord's year of mercy..." (Is 61:2). We listen with joy to the announcement of the year of mercy: divine mercy sets a limit to evil".

But what everyone knew as the "Panzer Kardinal", the cardinal tough as a tank, immediately afterwards also launched an attack on what he called the new contemporary dictatorship, the "dictatorship of relativism" inside and outside the Church.

“How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thought... The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been agitated by these waves - thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, up to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from-

agnosticism to syncretism and so on. Every day new sects are born and what Saint Paul says about the deceit of men, about the cunning that tends to lead them into error (cf. Eph 4:14) comes true.

Having a clear faith, according to the Creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, i.e. letting oneself be carried "here and there by any wind of doctrine", appears to be the only attitude up to today's times. A dictatorship of relativism is being established which does not recognize anything as definitive and which leaves only one's own ego and its desires as the last measure".

And yet, with his choice to renounce the Throne of Peter (it hadn't happened for over 700 years), the "anti-relativist" Ratzinger, on February 11, 2013, ended up relativizing the Papacy itself.

This may seem like a huge contradiction, but perhaps it is not. Benedict explained the gesture with which he will be remembered in the history books, arguing that the Church does not belong to the Pope, but to Christ, and therefore his renunciation also proves - in a certainly shocking way (and the world was in fact shocked by it ) the most radical, the most fundamentalist option.

At the end of Lent of 2005, commissioned by the dying John Paul II to write the Stations of the Cross, in presiding over the pious public practice which takes place every year in the amphitheater of the Colosseum on the evening of Good Friday, Ratzinger, at that time Dean  of the Sacred College, had put his finger in the purulent sores of the Church.

Starting with pedophilia, the betrayal of clerics, the reduction of faith to a self-referential theory. “There is nothing left but to cry out to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie, eleison – Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8:25)”.

The Stations of the Cross in 2005, and the homily of the Missa Pro eligendo Pontifice, were such clear-cut and harsh interventions that for many commentators they constituted the litmus test of the fact that Ratzinger was "out" of the game, that he would never have been elected Pope. No bookmaker bet on him.

The cables from the American Embassy to the Holy See, revealed by Wikileaks in 2009, showed that his election was a real bolt from the blue for world diplomacy, especially American.

Those two speeches, on the other hand, were his keynote speeches on the life, present and future of the Church.

A judgment shared by Pope Francis who, on his return flight from Central Africa, a good ten years later, in November 2015, speaking of corruption within the Church, intentionally wanted to recall, not prompted on this point by any question, the memory of the climate in which Pope Benedict was elected.

“Thirteen days before the death of Saint John Paul II, in that Via Crucis, the al

Cardinal Ratzinger who led it at the time spoke of the “filthiness of the Church”: but he denounced that! The first! Then he dies in the octave of Easter – this is Good Friday – Pope John Paul dies, and (Ratzinger, Nda) became Pope. But in the Mass “pro eligendo pontifice” – he was Dean – or Camerlengo? – no, Dean, he spoke about the same (problem, editor's note), and we elected him for this freedom to say things. Corruption has been in the air in the Vatican ever since: there is corruption”.

Note that "we", which reveals that Ratzinger also received the vote of Cardinal Bergoglio: "We elected him for this freedom to say things".

The cardinal who didn't want to be Pope.

For Ratzinger, the election was a privation and a personal sacrifice. Of course, before taking on such a great job, no one can imagine how he will react - once elected - as an individual. This is a unique situation, which cannot be assessed in advance. And perhaps for this reason the pontifical ceremonial provides that the elected one stops for as long as he wants in the so-called "room of tears", next to the Sistine Chapel.

There are those who are in some way corroborated by the assignment and there are those who experience it as a heavy burden. This happened to Ratzinger. Because the public aspects of being Pope weren't at all congenial to him.

Beneath Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgment, Ratzinger experienced the election as a 'true shock' and felt 'disturbed'. He felt 'like getting dizzy'.

It was Benedict XVI himself who confessed it publicly on the occasion of the first audience granted to pilgrims who came from Germany. And Benedict XVI was the first Pope who immediately after his election invited the faithful to pray for him. “Above all, I entrust myself to your prayers,” Ratzinger said. Like every Sunday, Pope Francis asks after the Angelus, looking out of the study window of the Apostolic Palace which opens onto St. Peter's Square. But it was during the homily of the Mass for the beginning of the Petrine ministry that the new Pope shook everyone, with a truly dramatic affirmation: "Pray for me, so that I do not flee, out of fear, before the wolves".

Words that re-read after his resignation from the Pontificate were considered almost prophetic.

No one knew the Church and the evils of the Church like Joseph Ratzinger, created cardinal by Paul VI in 1977, and in 1981 appointed by Wojtyla Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He was someone who knew the life of the Church with a totality that no one else had. Of the good and evil present in the Church.

In a certain sense Ratzinger, Cardinal, Prefect, Dean of the Sacred College "embodied" the Church, even before becoming Pope. And for this reason, when he wanted to leave the former Holy Office, John Paul II did not allow him to leave the Vatican and return to Germany.

He was a Church that no longer exists today. Because it is no longer a large basilica, but rather a "field hospital", according to the definition of Pope Francis.

The Second Vatican Council ended with Ratzinger.

Ratzinger was also the last Pope to participate in the Second Vatican Council. Indeed it was he as a young theologian who "rewrote" - as a ghostwriter - the draft of the last document approved by the Council, the document "ad Gentes", on the missionary spirit of the Church (voted virtually unanimously, 2,394 votes ago - in favor and only 5 against).

«Bonum diffusivum sui», Benedict XVI repeated in Nemi in July 2012 (visiting the small house of the Verbite Fathers on the lake of the same name where 47 years earlier he had completed the drafting of that document): «The good has the need in itself to be communicated, to give itself: it cannot exist in itself, the good thing, goodness itself is essentially communicatio”.

An "outgoing Church", Pope Francis would later define it. Although it is a circumstance little reported by commentators, inclined to “liquidate” Ratzinger as an anti-conciliar.

In reality, Benedict XVI has certainly placed the implementation of the reform desired by Vatican II at the center of his pontificate.

And also for this reason, seven years after his resignation, in the summer of 2020 he was attacked by the former Nuncio (Vatican ambassador) to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial prelate who went so far as to publicly ask for Pope Francis resigned at the end of August 2018.

All the evils of the Church, according to Viganò, "were born with the Second Vatican Council and with Ratzinger".

Some examples of how much Benedict XVI cared about Vatican II?

On Christmas Eve 2005, Benedict XVI delivered his first speech to the Roman Curia precisely on the themes of the Second Vatican Council in which he expressed himself clearly in favor of "a hermeneutic of reform" (and not only of continuity), respect to what happened before.

And a few days after the end of his pontificate, on February 14, 2013,


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