“The Lord is calling me ‘out to the mountain’ to devote more time to prayer and meditation, but this does not mean I’m abandoning the Church.” –Pope Benedict XVI, in his final Sunday Angelus address as Pope, at noon [Feb. 24] in St. Peter’s Square
The Sun Broke Through at Noon
This morning dawned grey and cold in Rome, but the sun broke through the clouds just at noon, as Pope Benedict came to the window of the papal apartment to pray the midday Angelus. Below him was a vast crowd, filling the piazza and overflowing into via della Conciliazione, estimated at as many as 200,000 people.
After the Angelus, walking with some friends toward the press office, I went in to pick up a copy of the Pope’s remarks.
There I saw Ignazio Ingrao, the author of the report in Panorama which was the basis for the La Repubblica report which rocked the world on Thursday, February 21, with its claim that a secret Vatican report, prepared by three eminent cardinals between April and December 2012, and given to the Pope on December 17, had revealed the existence of a number of influential, entrenched lobbies and factions within the Curia, contributing to Benedict’s decision to resign.
Ingrao walked out the door of the press office. I caught up to him just outside the door as a journalist holding a microphone and a cameraman with a TV camera on his shoulder came up to him. They were with a Polish television station. “Could we talk for a moment?” I asked Ingrao. “Sure,” he said. “Just give me five minutes to do this interview.”
While he gave his interview, I thought over the Pope had said during the Angelus, and to the Curia yesterday at the end of the week-long Spiritual Exercises…
“I will always be near you”
[Sunday] was dramatic. All around St. Peter’s Square, crowds flowed in for the final Angelus of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Cars along via delle Fornaci were double-parked and there was not a single space left open along the usually half-empty walls going up the Janiculum hill on the winding via delle Mura Aurelie.
When the Pope appeared, just at noon, at his studio window, some 200,000 pilgrims had gathered, despite fairly cold conditions, in St. Peter’s Square to express their gratitude to the Pope for his eight-year pontificate.
(A sign in the Square. It says: “We have understood you. We will continue to love you. Thank you! Your young people”)
Benedict XVI spoke clearly about his retirement. In Italian he said that he felt God was asking him to serve the Church in a way that’s “more appropriate for my age and strength.”
But was there a hint in his remarks of the reason for his decision?
Here is an attempt to read “between the lines” of the Pope’s final Angelus remarks.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope began.
“During the Mass on the second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord is always presented.
“Luke, the evangelist, has highlighted the fact that Jesus transfigured while he prayed.”
(Pope Benedict at his window today. The crowd below completely filled St. Peter’s Square.)
Here was a first possible glimpse into the Pope’s mind. “While he prayed.”
The Pope is about to step down from his papacy, on Thursday, in four days, and will devote his life to prayer. He will follow the same path that Jesus followed, when Jesus devoted himself to prayer, prior to his Transfiguration…
Benedict continued: “His is a deep, profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mount accompanied by Peter, James and John, the three disciples who were always present during the moments of the divine manifestation of the Master.”
Benedict, too, is about to begin a “spiritual retreat,” one which will last from now until the end of his life. He will live, in fact, “on a high mount” (the convent he will live in is up a steep hill in the Vatican gardens), accompanied by the four Italian “Memores Domini” (literally, “Rememberers of the Lord,” those who are consecrated to always be mindful of the Lord) who will keep his house and kitchen, and by his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein.
“The Lord, who not long ago had proclaimed his death and resurrection, offers the disciples an anticipation of his glory. And in both the transfiguration and the baptism, the voice of the heavenly Father echoes: ‘This is my son, the chosen one, listen to him!’ The presence of Moses and Elias later on, representing the laws and the prophets of the ancient covenant, is far more important: All the story of the covenant is oriented towards Him, the Christ, who fulfills a new exodus not towards the promised land as during the times of Moses but towards Heaven.”
Benedict, in these lines, is, of course, speaking about Christ, and not his own experience or future life.
Still, in the last words, he does indicate one of the central thoughts that he has always stressed, and that clearly still remains central to him: that the resurrected Christ “fulfills a new exodus” which leads “not towards the promised land… but towards Heaven.” He is emphasizing that all earthly things, in the end, must be left behind.
He continued: “St. Peter’s intervention: ‘Master, it is beautiful for us to be here’ represents the impossible attempt to stop such mystical experience.”
The Pope does not explain here that Peter’s words express a desire to set Jesus on the same level as the prophets, not understanding that Jesus is about to be revealed, mystically, on an entirely different level, as divine.
I once asked the Pope, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, whether he was a mystic. He told me no, not in the sense of experiencing in any sensible way the mystical presence of God. I was therefore struck by the expression he chose here: that it is “impossible… to stop such mystical experience.” There seems a hint in this that the Pope is saying that he feels called to be drawn even more intimately, mystically, into the very life of God, something that only a life completely devoted to prayer can bring.
The Pope continued: “St. Augustine has commented: ‘[St. Peter]… on the Mount… had Christ as the food for his soul. Why then should he have descended to return to exhaustion and pain, while above he was filled with feelings of sacred love towards God, which inspired him to a holy life.’ (Discourse 78:3).”
I was moved by these words. I took them to be a direct reference to what he is now experiencing. The Pope is Peter. He is referring to himself. Why should he descend from the mountain of prayer to the place of “exhaustion and pain” when he can, in continual prayer, be “filled with feelings of sacred love towards God,” feelings which will inspire him “to a holy life”?
Benedict is seeking the way of holiness in a life of continual prayer.
Then he said: “Pondering over this fragment of the Gospel, we can draw a very important lesson: First of all, the supremacy of prayer, without which all apostolate endeavors, and all acts of charity, are reduced to activism.”
He could not have been clearer.
He was telling us that prayer (i.e., a relationship with God) is supreme, that it is critical, essential, that prayer precede, inform and follow “all apostolic endeavors” and “all acts of charity.”
By prayer he means an immersion in God, in God’s will, in God’s life. Without this connection, all action is “reduced to activism.” It remains in some way on the human plane.
He continued: “During Lent, let us learn to give the right time to prayer, both personal and community prayer, which breathes air into our spiritual life. However, praying does not mean isolating oneself from the world and its contradictions, as St. Peter would have liked to have done on Mount Tabor, but prayer leads us back to the path, to action.”
Here, I could not find a way to interpret the words as referring to his own choice and future life, since it does not appear that his life of prayer will ever lead again to “action.” But could the Pope intend to “act” after immersing himself in prayer? If so, in what way?
In the next lines, I found the hint of an answer.
The Pope said: “Christian existence — I have written in the Message for this Lent — means to continuously climb up the mount for our encounter with God, so that afterward we can descend again filled with His love and strength to serve our brothers and sisters with the very love of God.”
He was saying that he, and every one of us, should “climb up the mount for our encounter with God” in order to be “filled with His love and strength” in order to be able to “serve” with “the very love of God.”
Benedict is saying that he will seek God’s face in prayer, seek to converse with God, to be in communion with God, in order to be filled with the very love of God.
And then the Pope said that this interpretation is actually one he intends, that he is referring to himself in these words.
“Dear Brothers and sisters,” he said, “this Word of God I feel in a particular way towards me, at this moment in my life. The Lord is calling me to ‘climb the mount,’ and to devote myself to meditation, reflection and prayer.”
So, he is going to imitate Christ, and go up the mountain. He is seeking mystical union with God. He is seeking the highest possible thing any man can seek.
“However,” he continued, “this does not mean abandoning the Church, but rather, if God has requested this of me, it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done up until now, but in a way adapted to my age and my strength.”
Benedict could not be much clearer. He is teaching the whole Church, and the world as well, by his decision to resign and devote himself to prayer.
He is telling all of us that the “pearl of great price,” the most important thing of all, for him, and for each one of us, is our relationship with the eternal one, the Holy One, God.
It is his final, greatest teaching. (Until his final audience, on Wednesday.)
If we follow Benedict in this, the Church will be healed.
If we follow Benedict in this, no matter how “besmirched” or “distorted” the Church’s face may be from sins of all types, from human weaknesses, and from the unwillingness to repent of those weaknesses and to seek God’s forgiveness, and in that forgiveness, the cleansing that leads to new life, the Church will be healed.
This is the way forward.
This is Benedict’s message to us.
And he concluded: “Let us invoke the Virgin Mary’s intercession: Let her guide all of you to follow the Lord Jesus always, in prayer as well as in works of charity.”
Videos of the Angelus
Here is a link to a Rome Reports video on the Angelus: http://www.romereports.com/
Here is a second link, which contains the words he spoke in English, and the actual words of his final Angelus blessing: http://www.romereports.com/
Ingrao’s TV interview actually took 15 minutes. When he was done, we went to the Bar San Pietro, on the via della Conciliazione, a few steps from the press office, to have a cappuccino, and a serious conversation…
February 25, 2013, Monday — Cappuccino
The Caffe San Pietro is a bit more expensive than other coffee-shops a few steps further from St. Peter’s Square, but it is convenient. It’s just a one-minute walk from the press office.
Besides, it was cold and windy outside.
We took seats at a table just up the steps to the inner room.
“Well,” I said. “Thanks for talking with me. I want to ask you about the 300-page dossier of the three cardinals. The results of the investigation by Cardinals Julian Herranz, Josef Tomko e Salvatore de Giorgi.
(The Caffe San Pietro, a few steps from the Vatican press office. I met there on Sunday, after the Pope’s last angelus, with Ignazio Ingrao, journalist for the Italian weekly Panorama, a widely read secular newseekly in Italy)
“All the recent articles about what the dossier contains, including the La Repubblica article on Thursday, February 21, by Concita De Gregorio, which was then picked up so dramatically by the world press, trace back to your article in Panorama, excerpts of which were published on the internet two days earlier, on February 19, though the actual date of the issue in which the article appeared is February 27. And now the Vatican has issued a communique denouncing the media for running articles not based on fact, aimed at influencing the Conclave. So I’m trying to pause and go back a bit here, to see how all this developed.”
I pulled the magazine out of my briefcase and put it on the table.
“I just want to know more about how you found out about the contents of the dossier.”
“No problem,” Ignazio said. “But I have another appointment at 1:30, so we only have about half an hour.”
A waiter came up.
“Due cappuccini,” Ignazio said.
“E un cornetto semplice,” I added. (A “cornetto” is a small, sweet brioche with a thick center and two pointed ends, one on each side, giving it the shape of a “horn,” which is what the word “cornetto” means.)
“Well,” I said. “Did you actually see the report?”
“You never set eyes on it?”
“Then how could you report on its contents? Did you talk with one of the three cardinals?”
“No, it wasn’t like that,” Ignazio said.
“My work was a careful work of reconstruction. I had been interested in the dossier for a long time, of course, and when the Pope resigned on February 11, my interest only increased. I very systematically sought out people in the Curia I thought might have been interviewed, and I spoke to them, one by one.”
“How many?” I asked.
“About 15,” he said. “I asked them what the interview sessions were like, what the line of questioning was, and even, what their answers were. It was like working on a jig-saw puzzle.
“Bit by bit, I began to have the outlines of a picture. I could see what the cardinals were looking for. They wanted to know something about the cities where the monsignors were born, in what seminaries they had studied, who else in the Curia they knew from their cities and from their seminaries, what religious order they were in — Salesian, Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit — whether they had studied at the Vatican’s diplomatic academy…”
“Ok,” I said. “That’s clear enough. You say that in your article. You write: ‘The report gives a photograph of the geographic currents, linked to the city or the region one comes from’… But you also write: ‘But perhaps the part of the report that most shocked the Pope was the one that brought to light the existence of a network of friendships and of blackmailings against a backround of homosexuality, which is very present in some sectors of the Curia.’ (‘Ma forse la parte del rapporto che piu ha scioccato il Papa e quella che ha portato alla luce l’esistenza di una vera e propria rete di amicizie e di ricatti a sfondo omosessuale che e molto presente in alcuni settori della curia.’)
(Below, the actual article by Ignazio Ingrao from the February 27 Panorama, which sparked a series of other reports in the world’s media, and then led the Vatican Secretariat of State to issue a statement warning against media speculation and distortion. The title sayd: “The Secret Dossier Will Condition the Conclave.” The parts of the article I cite below are on the second page, especially the lines at the bottom of the first and the top of the middle column)
“And you write: ‘Some actually go so far as to call it the “gay lobby” of the Vatican.’
“But then,” I said, “you use the word sarebbe, in the subjunctive.
“You say, ‘this lobby sarebbe‘ (is said to be, or is thought to be, or is supposed to be, or should be) ‘by far the most extensive and influential of all those present in the Vatican dicasteries.’ (“Qualcuno si spinge addirittura a definirla la ‘lobby gay’ del Vaticano, che sarebbe di gran lunga la piu ramificata e influente di tutte quelle presenti nei dicasteri vaticani.”)
“You even say that the report gives the first and last names of the members of this lobby.
“What evidence do you really have that the report actually say this?”
Ignazio didn’t miss a beat. He was cool and collected.
“The theme of the gay lobby emerged because a few of the people who were questioned by the cardinals told me that the questions that they were asked were about this aspect,” he said. “So, the commission explored this theme in depth. Especially in regard to the influence this could have in the exercise of authority in the Curia.”
“So you do not think you are simply speculating here?”
“It was clear,” Ignazio said. “The cardinals were specifically interested in this point. I heard this from several sources. I did not consider anything valid if I heard it from one source only. I required at least two or three sources telling me the same thing. If I heard it from two or more sources, if my sources confirmed one another, I knew I was hearing something with a basis in fact.”
“But then,” I said, “you still did not really know if this was really a factor in the Pope’s decision to resign. Or did you?”
“I did,” Ignazio said.
“Because of the entire context, because of the dates, because tof the way everything unfolded. The Pope is the head of the Curia, and depends on the Curia, but last year it happened that papers were stolen from his very desk. His entire work was undermined. And so he asked the commission of three cardinals to investigate into the Curia, and they did so, for many months. Then, when they submitted their results, only seven weeks passed by before the Pope resigned. Of course, we cannot say that the report alone prompted the resignation. The Pope has an awareness of the situation of the Church throughout the world, going far beyond the Curia. But I think we have to say that the report played a role in the resignation decision.”
“But you don’t actually know that the Pope was shocked by the report…”
“Well, I wrote ‘forse‘ (‘perhaps’),” Ignazio said. “Perhaps the part of the report that most shocked the Pope was the one that brought to light the existence of a network of friendships and of blackmailings against a background of homosexuality, which is very present in some sectors of the Curia…”
“Ok, I see,” I said. “By saying ‘forse‘ you took your distance from that assertion…” I paused. “And in the last part of the sentence, where you say homosexuality is ‘very present’ in ‘some sectors’ of the Curia?”
“That emerged from conversations with witnesses. It is what they told the commission of cardinals.”
Our time was nearly up. We sipped our coffee and I ate my cornetto.
“Tell me a little about yourself,” I said. “Panorama is a secular magazine, generally anti-clerical. Are you a Catholic?”
“I’m a Catholic, born in Rome, raised in Rome,” he said. “I’m married and I have two children, eight years old and six years old. I believe in the importance of the spiritual dimension, of the sacred. And I love the Church. But I also love the truth. In everything I write, that is my goal, my only goal: the truth.”
“What about the decision to promote Balestrero to be nuncio in Colombia?”
“Well, they say it wasn’t a sudden decision, that it took some weeks, that the government of Colombia had to be informed and to accept the nomination. But there is no doubt that the appointment was in some ways not in keeping with ordinary Church procedures. Normally, a Vatican monsignor has a certain development in his career, according to a rather precise time-table: first one or two minor assignments abroad, five year in Africa, five years in Latin America, then five years in Rome, sometimes more, and then a major assignment, like becoming a nuncio. But he was moved at least two years early. This is, in any case, a bit unusual.”
“One thing I really like about you article,” I said, “was the last sentence. You write: ‘But for the majority of the electors, it is already clear that from the Sistine Chapel must exit a Pope who cannot be blackmailed so that he can proceed to that action of purification that Ratzinger has entrusted to his successor.’ (‘Ma per la maggior parte degli elettori è già chiaro che dalla Cappella Sistina dovrà uscire un Papa non ricattabile per poter procedere a quell’azione di pulizia che Ratzinger ha affidato al successore.’)
“Thanks,” Ignazio said. “We are in agreement. The Pope should not have his hands tied.”
“Absolutely. Totally agree,” I said. “Great talking to you. I appreciate it.”
“Any time,” he said.
Later, I ran into an Italian jounalist friend, and mentioned that I had spoken to Ingrao and that he had stood by his story.
“His story was ultimately based on the work of an Italian priest, don Ariel S. Levi di Gualdo, who came out with an explosive book last year on this subject. That’s the real source of this story. They say that all the cardinals received copies of his book, even Cardinal Herranz, the head of the commission of three cardinals which prepared the secret dossier given to the Pope on December 17.”
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“Do you have his phone number?” I said.
(to be continued…)
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