The damage Benedict XVI has done to the Catholic church and the papacy may be far from over. All I can say about yesterday’s developments is that they seem potentially disastrous and also indicative to me of something truly weird going on underneath all of this.
Benedict XVI has claimed that his almost unprecedented resignation came about simply because of his physical infirmity in the face of what appears to be a growing vortex of sexual and financial scandal inside the Vatican. He said he would quietly disappear to serve the church through prayer and meditation. But we now realize he’s going nowhere. He’s staying in the Vatican’s walls, and retaining the honorific “His Holiness.” He will keep white robes. His full title will be Pope Emeritus. Far from wearing clerical black, returning to the title of Bishop of Rome, and disappearing into a monastery in Bavaria, he’s going to be a shadow Pope in the Vatican. And this, we are told, was his decision:
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict himself had made the decision in consultation with others, settling on “Your Holiness Benedict XVI” and either emeritus pope or emeritus Roman pontiff. Lombardi said he didn’t know why Benedict had decided to drop his other main title: bishop of Rome.
If you were trying to avoid any hint of meddling, of a Deng Xiao Peng-type figure pulling strings behind the scenes, you would not be doing this. The only thing the Pope will give up, apparently, are his red Prada shoes. He has some fabulous brown leather artisanal ones to replace them. But this is what really made me sit up straight, so to speak:
Benedict’s trusted secretary, Monsignor Georg Gänswein, will be serving both pontiffs — living with Benedict at the monastery inside the Vatican and keeping his day job as prefect of the new pope’s household. Asked about the potential conflicts, Lombardi was defensive, saying the decisions had been clearly reasoned and were likely chosen for the sake of simplicity. “I believe it was well thought out,” he said.
So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well, a normal arrangement? I wrote a while back about Gänswein’s intense relationship with Ratzinger, while noting Colm Toibin’s review of Angelo Quattrochi’s exploration of Benedict, “Is The Pope Gay?”. Here’s Toibin getting to some interesting stuff:
Gänswein is remarkably handsome, a cross between George Clooney and Hugh Grant, but, in a way, more beautiful than either. In a radio interview Gänswein described a day in his life and the life of Ratzinger, now that he is pope:
The pope’s day begins with the seven o’clock Mass, then he says prayers with his breviary, followed by a period of silent contemplation before our Lord. Then we have breakfast together, and so I begin the day’s work by going through the correspondence. Then I exchange ideas with the Holy Father, then I accompany him to the ‘Second Loggia’ for the private midday audiences. Then we have lunch together; after the meal we go for a little walk before taking a nap. In the afternoon I again take care of the correspondence. I take the most important stuff which needs his signature to the Holy Father.
When asked if he felt nervous in the presence of the Holy Father, Gänswein replied that he sometimes did and added: ‘But it is also true that the fact of meeting each other and being together on a daily basis creates a sense of “familiarity”, which makes you feel less nervous. But obviously I know who the Holy Father is and so I know how to behave appropriately. There are always some situations, however, when the heart beats a little stronger than usual.’
This man – clearly in some kind of love with Ratzinger (and vice-versa) will now be working for the new Pope as secretary in the day and spending the nights with the Pope Emeritus. This is not the Vatican. It’s Melrose Place.
(Photo: the Pope’s personal secretary Georg Ganswein adjusts Pope Benedict XVI’s cloak during the weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square on September 26, 2012 in Vatican City, Vatican. By Franco Origlia/Getty Images)