Interview with Ratzinger: "There are not two Popes."
Interview with Ratzinger: «There are not two Popes. The resignation of 8 years ago? I think I did well"
Benedict XVI's message to those who do not give up and to Bergoglio's fans who fear his shadow. “It was a painful decision, but I think I did well. My conscience is fine "

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Corriere Della Sera [computer translated from the Italian]| March 1, 2021

" There are two popes. The Pope is only one… ». Joseph Ratzinger says it in a faint voice, striving to articulate every word well. He is seated on one of the two light leather armchairs which, together with a sofa, furnish the living room on the first floor of the Mater Ecclesiae cloistered monastery.: the place where he retired, far from everything, in March 2013. His reading glasses are placed on the bedside table, next to an ancient wooden statuette depicting a Madonna and Child. «This is the Guardini Room. It is so called because it collects among other things the complete work of the Italian-German theologian Romano Guardini. It is there, behind you », explains Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, his personal secretary and Prefect of the Papal Household, pointing to the bookcase lining the walls. The editor of Corriere della Sera , Luciano Fontana, hands the Pope Emeritus a red folder containing two caricatures that Emilio Giannelli , cartoonist appreciated by Benedetto, has designed especially for him.He looks at the first for a long time, and smiles. Then he moves on to the second, and the smile widens into laughter . "Giannelli is a witty person", he glosses with papal and Bavarian aplomb.

Until 2012, the cloistered nuns lived in the twelve cells of this building, built between 1992 and 1994 and previously occupied by the Gendarmerie and papal gardeners. Now he hosts Benedict, the four "Memores", the consecrated women of Communion and Liberation who assist him, and Monsignor Gaenswein . It appears suddenly after a hairpin bend in the highest and most inaccessible part of the Vatican City. It is protected by an electric gate , beyond which an unreal silence reigns. Meeting Benedict is rare, especially in recent times. And even more unusual is the fact that you agree to address one of the most traumatic topics for the life of the Catholic Church in recent centuries. His clarification on the uniqueness of the Papacy is obvious to himbut not for some sectors of conservative Catholicism more irreducible in hostility to Francis. For this reason, he reiterates that "the Pope is only one", weakly tapping the palm of his hand on the armrest : as if he wanted to give words the strength of a definitive affirmation.

It is significant: he delivers the message to the Corriere on the eve of February 28, the same day eight years ago when his renunciation of the Papacy, announced on February 11, became effective . After a long time, the disorientation, the amazement, the gossip that accompanied that epochal gesture still stagnate. And Benedict seems to want to exorcise them. We ask if in recent years he has often thought about that day. He nods. “It was a difficult decision. But I took it fully aware, and I think I did well. Some of my slightly "fanatic" friends are still angry, they did not want to accept my choice. I think of the conspiracy theories that followed it: some said it was the fault of the Vatileaks scandal, some of a conspiracy by the gay lobby, some of the case of the conservative Lefebvrian theologian Richard Williamson. They don't want to believe in a conscious choice. But my conscience is fine ».

The sentences come out with a dropper, the voice is a breath, it comes and goes . And Monsignor Gaenswein in some rare passages repeats and "translates", while Benedict nods in approval. The mind remains clear, quick as the eyes, alert and lively. The white hair is slightly long, under the papal skullcap as white as the robe. Two very thin wrists emerge from the sleeves that underline an image of great physical fragility. Ratzinger wears a watch on his left wrist and on his right a strange contraption that looks like another watch but is actually an alarm ready to go off if something happens . What he himself defined in February 2018, in a letter to the Corriere, «This last period of my life», flows quietly, in the hermitage between the hairpin bends of the Vatican Gardens flanked by trees, waterfalls and altars, which overlooks Rome. Until February 2, in the hall where he receives us there was a nativity scene and a Christmas tree, framed between the library, the icons hung on the walls together with other sacred images: a sober room, not large, welcoming.

The rhythms are routine. Newspapers previously selected by the Vatican offices are read every day. In addition, the Osservatore romano , the Corriere della Sera and two German newspapers arrive in print . At the table, with the Memores we often discuss politics. And now the Pope Emeritus is curious about Mario Draghi. "We hope he will be able to resolve the crisis," he says. "He is a very respected man in Germany too." He mentions Sergio Mattarella, although he admits that he knows the head of state less than his predecessor, Giorgio Napolitano. "How are you?", He informs himself. And the speech slips on the Covid 19 epidemic.

Ratzinger has already been vaccinated , he received the first dose and then he was given the second, like Monsignor Gaenswein and most of the inhabitants of the Vatican City. In this respect, the small state is observed with a touch of envy in Italy and in much of Europe, where vaccines arrive slowly. The virus is frightening, and Benedict mentions the dramatic experience lived by the president of the CEI, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, who was healed after a long battle. “I just saw him again and he told me he is much better now. I found it well ». And when the Pope Emeritus is asked about Francis' next visit to Iraq, the expression becomes serious, worried . "I think it's a very important journey," he notes." Unfortunately, it falls at a very difficult time that also makes it a dangerous trip : for security reasons and for Covid. And then there is the unstable Iraqi situation. I will accompany Francis with my prayer ». Some men of the Vatican Gendarmerie and the Swiss Guards are already there to organize all possible protective measures around Pope Francis. Italian intelligence agents have also been present for weeks, but it is not clear who they are collaborating with. There are no comments on this from the monastery where Ratzinger lives. It comes naturally to think of the United States, and to observe that now, with Joe Biden in the White House replacing Donald Trump, relations with the Vatican are destined to improve.

On Biden, the second Catholic president after John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Ratzinger expresses some reservations on a religious level . “It's true, he's Catholic and observant. And personally he is against abortion, ”he observes. "But as president, he tends to present himself in continuity with the line of the Democratic Party ... And on gender politics we have not yet fully understood what his position is", he whispers, giving voice to the mistrust and hostility of a large part of the US episcopate towards Biden and his party, considered too liberal.

Forty-five minutes have passed, outside it is starting to get dark: far away, even if in reality they are less than a kilometer, you can see the lights of Rome. Benedict gives as a souvenir of the interview a commemorative medal and a bookmark with his blessing photo: both from when he was Pope. And again the paradox emerges not only of his own but of a Church immersed unwittingly in the inextricable intertwining of two papal identities. Ratzinger greets, remaining seated, with a hint of a smile, and thanks by pointing to the two cartoons by Giannelli placed on the table. In one, Benedict symbolically embraces a crowded St Peter's Square: a nostalgic reminder not only of his pontificate but of the world before Covid 19. And it is an image that contrasts with the powerful, dramatic one of Francis that on March 27, 2020 speaks from the churchyard of the same square, desertified by the coronavirus and ghostly. In the other vignette, in color, the Pope Emeritus gives the keys of the Church to a frowning Francis, adding: «I recommend…». As always when it comes to the Vatican, reality and symbolism are indissolubly linked. And the enigmas of the German Pope Emeritus and the Argentine Pontiff seem to have been made on purpose to feed the legends about ecclesiastical power and its mysteries.

Leaving the monastery, escorted by car by a plainclothes Swiss guard with a headset , one would think that when Ratzinger insists with a veil of voice "the Pope is one", he is certainly addressing the "fanatics" who do not give up. To reassure them, he speaks to the followers of Francis who fear the intellectual shadow of this old and frail theologian with age. But perhaps, after eight years, with his inner voice, the Pope Emeritus unconsciously whispers it even to himself.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

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