Pope calls unprecedented abuse summit

What happened?

Two letters that Benedict XVI wrote to his friend Cardinal Walter Brandmüller last November have been leaked to the German newspaper Bild. In the letters Benedict rebuked his friend for publicly criticising his decision to abdicate the papacy. He also defended his decision to accept the title “Pope Emeritus”. If he had returned to being a cardinal, he said, he would have been “constantly exposed to the media”. As Pope Emeritus he was “absolutely not accessible”, he wrote.

What the media are saying

One passage in the letter provoked two wildly different interpretations. Benedict XVI referred to people’s “deep-seated pain” over the way his papacy ended, adding that for some the pain “has turned to anger, which no longer just affects the abdication but my person and the entirety of my pontificate”. He added: “In this way the pontificate itself is being devalued and conflated with the sorrow about the situation of the Church today.”

Bild said the letters showed Benedict was “deeply worried about the state of the Church”. The letters, it claimed, would make Church historians “sit up and take notice”. Jason Horowitz at the New York Times, meanwhile, argued that the letters were actually a rebuke to Pope Francis’s critics – that the Pope Emeritus believed anger over his abdication was devaluing Pope Francis’s papacy. But EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo responded on Twitter: “Pope Francis has nothing to do with it.”

Phil Lawler, writing at Catholic Culture, sided with Bild. Quoting Benedict’s reference to “sorrow about the situation of the Church today”, he said: “The former pope seems to be agreeing – in a private letter, not intended for public release – that something is seriously wrong.” Lawler had a caveat. At the end of one letter Benedict wrote: “Let us rather pray … that the Lord will come to the aid of his Church.” According to Bild, this was a “remarkable sentence”. Lawler disagreed. “Shouldn’t good Christians ask for the Lord’s help, even in the best of times?”

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