Benedict XVI: Behind the Scenes of His Resignation

October 15, 2021

Who knew about Benedict XVI's resignation and for how long? Who did the Pope Emeritus confide in? An Italian Vaticanist takes stock of a behind-the-scenes resignation that changed the face of the Church.

Francesco Antonio Grana is a Vaticanist for the center-left Italian online magazine ilfattoquotidiano.

In his latest work Cosa resta del papato— “What Remains of the Papacy,” published on October 7, 2021 by Terra Santa, the journalist, while delivering a reformist vision of the future of the papacy, delivers news from behind the scenes of the surprising action taken by Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013.

On April 30, 2012 the German pontiff for the first time brought up to his secretary of state the idea of a possible resignation from the throne of Peter.

We also know that three other people were then taken into the confidence of the Pope himself: his confessor, a Polish priest from the Apostolic Penitentiary; his older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger; and his private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein.

On February 4, 2013, a few days before the news fell like a bomb, Benedict XVI informed the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano.

On February 5, 2013, it is the turn of the second private secretary to the Holy Father, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb, since promoted to nuncio in Korea, to be directly warned by his master. Things will then speed up.

On February 10, 2013, in the evening, the deputy of the Secretary of State, the future Cardinal Angelo Maria Becciu, telephones the Vatican's communications adviser, the American journalist Greg Burke, who will later become director of the Holy See’s Press Office, asking him to arrive a little earlier than usual at the office the next morning.

Msgr. Becciu, however, did not reveal the reason for this meeting. Absolute secrecy had to be kept to avoid any possible leak. With the Vatileaks scandal only a few months old, it was necessary to avoid at all costs having the Supreme Pontiff’s decision be published first in the newspapers, before being solemnly announced during the consistory.

The journalist specifies that “always on the eve of the consistory, the master of pontifical liturgical celebrations, Msgr. Guido Marini, quite unusually telephoned the home of each master of ceremonies to ensure their presence at this meeting.”

Already on the morning of February 11, a few hours before Benedict XVI made the historic announcement, Msgr. Marini had told the guardian of the pontifical sanctuary at the time, the

Augustinian Father Pavel Benedik, that he should “lay aside everything that would be necessary for the organization of a conclave.” The papal master of ceremonies was therefore aware, at least 24 hours in advance.

It was also on February 10 that several officials of the Secretariat of State learned the news, when they were asked to work on the Latin text of the papal address: “the resignation formula,” explained Cardinal Bertone, then secretary. of State, had been carefully thought out and reworked sub secreto. The pope's signature bears the date of February 7 in a first text and ...the final text bears the date of February 10,” explains the high prelate.

Antonio Grana also reveals that “even the then director of the Holy See's Press Office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, only learned of Benedict XVI's decision a few minutes before the consistory began.”

And we learn that the Jesuit did not have much time to prepare for the press conference he improvised immediately after the announcement, in a Vatican press office, which, still deserted a few minutes earlier, was literally “taken by storm” in the blink of an eye.