Interview with La Razón, Madrid, Spain (January 5, 2023)
Do you think that history will eventually do justice to Benedict XVI and overcome the trite labels that have been pinned on him?
The manifestations of affection in 2013 at the end of his pontificate, and now after his death, are an expression of the deep mark he left on millions of people. Moreover, in the almost eight years of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has left us a very extensive body of preaching, which is a marvelous spiritual heritage and a pastoral teaching of great beauty and depth, and which has helped and will help us to pray, to reflect on the faith, to live charity and to better manage human, personal and social relationships. I think that his writings and his magisterium will be a source of inspiration for many believers and even non-believers in the future.
For you, Benedict XVI was not only a pope, but also someone with whom you had a close relationship. What do you remember from that period of working together?
Ever since I began working as a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1986, I was struck by his kindness and his ability to listen to everyone. Although he did not preside over the meeting of the consultors, I had the opportunity to be alone with him many times; he was never the one to end the conversation, or say that he had other matters waiting for him. He gave great consideration to others’ opinions, especially if they were different from his own. It was very easy to express contrary opinions and this never bothered him, even when the person was much younger or had less training or experience. What he really sought and was concerned about was the truth, not his personal criteria.
What do you think is the most important lesson the Pope Emeritus has left regarding the charism of Opus Dei?
I often remember his words at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate: “There is nothing more beautiful than to be moved by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ.” This is a good summary of what the life of a Christian, of a Catholic, and therefore of any person in Opus Dei, should be. As Benedict XVI liked to remind us, happiness has a name and a face: that of Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. For all Catholics, I think another important lesson is his love for the Church and for the Pope, which has become evident in recent years with regard to his successor, Pope Francis. I have recounted on other occasions that, when Bishop Lefebvre accepted what was proposed to him and shortly thereafter backed out, I witnessed the words filled with sorrow that came from Cardinal Ratzinger’s heart: “How can they not realize that without the Pope they are nothing!”
The headlines are highlighting Joseph Ratzinger’s theological legacy. As a pastor, what would you highlight about him?
I would highlight his humility and his love for our Lord, which enabled him to respond with a “yes” to whatever God and the Church asked of him at every moment. He did so with simplicity, but also with determination and fidelity; for example, when at the request of St. John Paul II he remained at the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or when after the death of the Pontiff he was hoping to retire to his native Germany to dedicate himself to prayer and study. But God had other plans.
The figure of Benedict XVI is often contrasted with that of Francis, even speaking of a rupture. Do you share this vision?
Each Pope, each pontificate has its own style. This diversity is a richness, different than a rupture, through a full and clear continuity in all that is essential in the Church. Benedict XVI has been ready to step aside when he saw this as necessary, to serve the Church and the Pope with his silent prayer. And a few days ago, Pope Francis himself recalled in an interview that he visited him frequently and that he was edified by his transparent look, his contemplation and good humor, and that he admired his intelligence and deep spiritual life.
Romana, n. 76, January-June 2023, p. 60-61.