Vatican Plays Down Fears For Former Pope Benedict’s Health

This file photo taken on June 22, 2020 shows former pope Benedict XVI posing for a picture at the airport in Munich, southern Germany, after visiting his brother and before his departure. Sven Hoppe / POOL / AFP



The Vatican on Monday said former pope Benedict XVI was not in especially bad health after his biographer told a German newspaper he was “extremely frail”.

Pope emeritus Benedict’s health “is no cause for particular concern, especially regarding a 93-year-old person getting over the most acute phase of a painful illness,” the Vatican press office said citing his personal secretary Georg Gaensewein.

Citing the former pope’s biographer Peter Seewald, Bavarian newspaper the Passauer Neue Presse reported that Benedict is suffering from erysipelas of the face, a virus that causes a facial rash and episodes of severe pain.

“According to Seewald, the pope emeritus is now extremely frail,” the report read. “His thinking and his memory are quick, but his voice is hardly audible at the moment.”

Seewald reportedly visited Benedict in Rome on Saturday to present him with his biography.

“At the meeting the emeritus pope, despite his illness, was optimistic and declared that if his strength increased again he would possibly take up his pen again,” the paper said.


This handout picture released on February 15, 2018 by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis (L) greeting Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, on June 28, 2017. HO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO / AFP


Benedict visited his sick brother Georg in Germany in June, marking his first trip out of Italy since his shock resignation in 2013.

Georg Ratzinger died just two weeks later, aged 96.

The former pontiff, whose original name is Joseph Ratzinger, now lives in a small former monastery inside the Vatican.

He has largely stayed out of the public eye since he became the first pope in 600 years to resign, citing health reasons.

A traditionalist in the Catholic Church, he was replaced by the reformist Pope Francis.


Seven Years After Stepping Down, Benedict Fuels ‘Two Popes’ Headache

This handout picture released on February 15, 2018 by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis (L) greeting Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, on June 28, 2017.  AFP


Seven years after his surprise resignation, Benedict XVI — weakened by age but still intellectually spry — appears unable to remain in the shadow of his Argentinean successor Francis, creating the appearance of “two popes” at odds.

On February 11, 2013, at the age of 85, the German intellectual Joseph Ratzinger announced in Latin to astonished cardinals that he would cease being pope, a situation unheard of for seven centuries.

For five years, the unusual cohabitation in the smallest state in the world between the 265th pope in retirement and the 266th, Francis, went on without a hitch.

But as the “emeritus” Pope Benedict XVI, a learned theologian, continued in his retirement to write on the great themes of the Church, friction has arisen, most recently over the topic of married priests.

On Wednesday, Francis will unveil his stance on priestly marriage after a synod of Amazonian bishops recommended in October that the priesthood be opened to married indigenous people. Some say this exception would solve the problem of a lack of priests in remote areas of the Amazon.

The Vatican insists that Francis’s position was already decided in December, before the publication in January of a book castigating the synod conclusions and defending the celibacy of priests, co-signed by Benedict XVI and the ultra-traditionalist Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah.

Some Vatican observers say Francis was strongly irritated by the publication, which caused shockwaves when excerpts were first published by Le Figaro newspaper.

Through his private secretary, the German Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict tried to backtrack on the publication, explaining that he had never approved a co-authored book project. But the damage had been done, with the former pope weighing in on the importance of priestly celibacy ahead of his successor’s pronouncement on the subject.

Benedict also ruffled feathers in April 2019, when in a long text he blamed paedophilia within the church on the 1960s sexual revolution and an absence of God in modern society.

Francis has said the problems stem from within the church itself and has criticised “clericalism,” or how a sense of priestly superiority has caused the clergy to become remote from the faithful.

Gaenswein, whose duties included organising Francis’ audiences, has not been seen at the side of the current pope since the publication of the book. The prelate appears to have been sidelined and invited to spend more time taking care of the retired Pope.

  ‘His strength has weakened’ 

A Bavarian television documentary in January revealed a frail Benedict, in a wheelchair, speaking with a faint voice. The former pope no longer celebrates mass himself in his monastery within the Vatican gardens, decorated with family photos and Bavarian souvenirs.

The former pope — who has given himself the title of “emeritus” pope — has now substituted monk’s sandals for his red mules of the past, but he continues to wear a white cassock within the Vatican walls.

Gaenswein, who lives with Benedict in the same monastery, is quoted in the documentary as saying: “You can see when he walks that his strength has weakened.”

Three years ago, Gaenswein explained the “two popes” phenomenon: “There are not two popes, but a de facto expanded ministry, with one active and one contemplative member”.

Such statements have fuelled a traditionalist fringe within the Vatican which considers Francis illegitimate and interprets all writings of Benedict as a criticism of his successor.

But last week, the second most powerful person in the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin sought to put the affair to rest, saying Francis was the one and only pope.

“Let’s stop talking about two sovereign pontiffs, because there is only one pope, the one who is invested with papal authority, that is, Francis,” Parolin said.

Francis too tried to stamp out any ambiguity in 2016, saying Benedict was “a pope emeritus and not the second pope,” comparing his 10-year-old elder to “a grandfather at home”.

Still, popular culture has run with the idea.

“The Two Popes,” a film by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, imagines an oratorical joust between an authoritarian German pope played by Anthony Hopkins and a future Argentine pope, played by Jonathan Pryce, who likes to watch soccer and who wants to teach the pope to tango.


Ex-Pope Benedict Seeks Removal Of Name From ‘Controversial’ Celibacy Book

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leads the Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican.


Former pope Benedict XVI has asked that his name be removed from a controversial new book in which he comes down firmly against married priests, his secretary told Italian newswire ANSA. 

The book, excerpts of which were published on Sunday by French newspaper Le Figaro, set off a firestorm with some Vatican experts wondering whether ultra-conservatives within the Vatican were taking advantage of the 92-year old pope emeritus, who has mostly remained out of the limelight since his retirement in 2013.

Benedict’s private secretary, Georg Gaenswein, told ANSA that on behalf of the former pope he asked the book’s co-author, Cardinal Robert Sarah, “to contact the publishers of the book begging them to remove the name of Benedict XVI as co-author of the book itself and also to remove his signature from the introduction and conclusions.”

In the book, Benedict is quoted as writing “I cannot keep silent!” about the issue of loosening the rules over clerical celibacy.

Pope Francis is currently considering whether to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood in certain circumstances, such as in remote locations like the Amazon where communities seldom have Mass due to a lack of priests. He is expected to publish his decision in the coming weeks.

The book in question, “From the Depth of our Hearts,” was expected to hit bookshelves in France on Wednesday with images of the former pope and Cardinal Sarah on the cover.

Gaenswein said Benedict was aware that a book was in the works and had sent his own text authorising Sarah to “make use of it as he wanted”.

“But he hadn’t approved any plans for a double signature book nor had he seen and authorised the cover,” Gaenswein said.

It is unclear which passages in the book came from Benedict and which were written by Sarah.

Cardinals Head To Conclave, Church Beset By Woes

Roman Catholic cardinals gather under the gaze of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” on Tuesday to elect a new pope to tackle the daunting problems facing the 1.2-billion-member Church.

The secret conclave, steeped in ritual and prayer, could carry on for several days, with no clear favorite in sight to take over the reins from Pope Benedict, who abdicated last month saying he was not strong enough to confront the Church’s woes.

In a process dating back to medieval times, 115 “Princes of the Church” from 48 countries will shut themselves in the Vatican’s frescoed Sistine Chapel on Tuesday afternoon after a public Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning.

They will emerge from their seclusion only when they have chosen the 266th pontiff in the 2,000-year-history of the Church, which is beset by sex abuse scandals, bureaucratic infighting, financial difficulties and the rise of secularism.

“We are ready to enter the conclave and it will be longer than the last one,” South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier told reporters on Monday, referring to the 2005 election of Benedict, that was wrapped up in 24 hours after four ballots.

“It will last a few days. Maybe four or five,” he predicted.

The average length of the last nine conclaves was just over three days and none went on for more than five days.

Vatican-insiders say Italy’s Angelo Scola and Brazil’s Odilo Scherer have emerged as the men to beat. The former would bring the papacy back to Italy for the first time in 35 years, while the latter would be the first non-European pope in 1,300 years.

However, a host of other candidates from numerous nations also have been mentioned, including U.S. cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley, Canada’s Marc Ouellet and Argentina’s Leonardo Sandri.


All the red-hatted prelates closed in the Sistine Chapel were appointed by either Benedict or his revered predecessor John Paul, and the next pontiff will almost certainly pursue their fierce defense of traditional moral teachings.

But Benedict and John Paul were criticized for failing to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, battered by allegations of intrigue and incompetence, and some churchmen believe the next pope must be a manager or put a good management team in place.

Vatican insiders say Scola, who has managed two big Italian dioceses, might be best placed to understand the Byzantine politics of the Vatican administration – of which he is not a part – and therefore be able to introduce swift reform.

The Curia faction is said by the same insiders to back Scherer who worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops for seven years before later leading Brazil’s Sao Paolo diocese – the largest diocese in the biggest Catholic country.

With only 24 percent of Catholics living in Europe, pressure is growing within the Church to see a pontiff from elsewhere in the world who would bring a different perspective.

Latin American cardinals might worry more about poverty and the rise of evangelical churches than questions of materialism and sexual abuse that predominate in the West, while the growth of Islam is a major concern for the church in Africa and Asia.

The cardinals are expected to hold their first vote late on Tuesday afternoon – almost certain to be inconclusive – before retiring to the Vatican hotel for the night.

They hold four ballots a day thereafter until one man has won a two-thirds majority – or 77 votes. Black smoke from a makeshift chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel will show no-one was elected while white smoke and the pealing of St. Peter’s bells will announce the arrival of a new pontiff.

As in medieval times, the cardinals will be banned from communicating with the outside world. The Vatican has also taken high-tech measures to ensure secrecy in the 21st century, including jamming devices to prevent eavesdropping.

Pope calls for end to attack on Christians in Nigeria

Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for an immediate end to what he called “terrorist attacks” against Christians in Nigeria and urged all sides to avoid reprisals.

The bombed Church in Kaduna

The Pope at his weekly general audience on Wednesday expressed his concern on the persistent suicide and bomb attacks on Churches saying, “I am following with deep concern the news from Nigeria, where terrorist attacks are continuing especially against Christians.”

A number of Churches have been attacked across the states in northern Nigeria with untold number of deaths. Such suicide attacks have continued unabated in the last three weeks, killing people during the Church service.

The Pontiff appealed for calm, urging the perpetrators to stop killing the innocent. “I appeal to those responsible for the violence to immediately stop the spilling of the blood of many innocents.”

He also appealed to all groups in the country to shun “the path of vendetta” and work towards building a peaceful society where people were free to practice their religion.

Reprisals attacks in Kaduna on Tuesday, following the bomb attack on three churches in Zaria, has led to the death of dozens while gun feuds in Yobe state, since Monday has also claimed a number of lives.

The escalating violence has raised fears of wider sectarian conflict in a country reeling from months of attacks on churches, government buildings and other sites by the Islamist Boko Haram sect.


Pope appeals for peace in Nigeria and other troubled countries

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday appealed for peace in the world’s trouble spots during his Easter message, but one of the holiest days for Christians was marred by fresh violence in Nigeria and Syria.

Pope Benedict XVI gives the Urbi and Orbi blessing at the end of the Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the the Vatican Sunday, April 8, 2012.

Speaking before a crowd of 100,000 in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square, the pope called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria where fighting continues to claim lives.

“Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community,” he said.

The pontiff also voiced hope that the thousands of refugees fleeing the crisis were given help to relieve “their dreadful sufferings.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s comments came as UN peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was shocked at the “unacceptable” escalation of violence in Syria, where 130 people were killed on Saturday in one of the bloodiest days since protests against President Bashar al Assad’s regime erupted in March last year.

At least 11 more people were killed on Sunday as Mr Assad’s regime insisted it would not pull out from cities in Syria unless there were written guarantees from rebels.

Turning to Iraq, the pope encouraged people to “spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development,” while also urging Israel and the Palestinians to “courageously take up a new the peace process.”

He also called for peace and stability to return to Mali after a military coup last month and condemned the “savage terrorist attacks” on Christian churches in Nigeria.

“To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens,” the pope said.

His words came as at least 20 people were killed in northern Nigeria after a car bombing outside a Christian church while an Easter service was being held inside.