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Revelations from a former pope

VATICAN (SE): In revealing comments released prior to the publication of a book on the reflections of the former bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI says that he always thought that governance was the weak point of his pontificate and that Pope Francis is an excellent choice as his successor, even though it came as a big shock to him at the time.

The Last Testament: In his own words, written by Peter Seewald, is due to be released in English on November 3 and in Italian under the title of Ultime Conversazioni shortly.

Seewald published a book-length interview with Pope Benedict while he was still in the Chair of Peter, breaking the mould of papal communication when he submitted himself to a face to face interview.

In excerpts published on September 7 in the Italian newspaper, Corriere della, Pope Benedict says that he does not see himself as a failure, even though he faced many extremely difficult moments during his papacy.

He singled out the continued questioning of the Church’s handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal; his decision to lift the excommunication on the renegade English Bishop Richard Williamson, the Holocaust denier from the troublesome Society of St. Pius X; and the Vatileaks saga, in which his own butler betrayed him by releasing private documents to the media.

However, as against this, he said, “It was also a period in which many people found a new life in the faith and there was a great positive movement.”

In saying that governance was not his strong point, he reflected, “In reality I am more a professor, one who reflects and meditates on spiritual questions.”

Pope Benedict also denied a few persistent rumours that have been floating around since his retirement, saying that he was not being blackmailed at the time when he decided to step down from the papacy in February 2013 and, if he had been, he certainly would have stayed in the job to see it out.

“If someone had tried to blackmail me I would not have left, because you cannot leave when you are under pressure,” he stressed.

He denied that he was depressed or embittered at the time, saying that in fact, he felt extremely peaceful like someone who has just overcome a great difficulty in life.

“I wrote the text of the resignation,” Pope Benedict said. “I cannot say with precision when, but at the most two weeks before.”

He explained that he wrote it about two weeks prior to its release on 11 February 2013 in Latin, partly because he is more comfortable in that language than Italian and also because it was such an important document.

But he has much praise for Pope Francis, even though he had not regarded him as a contender for the winner’s circle. In fact he believes that he came as a surprise to most people.

Pope Benedict also admits that when he heard the name he felt insecure at the thought of an unknown quantity taking over the reins from him, but after he watched him being introduced to the crowds and heard him talk to both God and the people during the memorable moment when he bowed his head and asked for their blessing, he felt quite reassured.

He explains that the newly-elected pope had tried to call him before he ventured out onto the balcony on the night of his election, but he was watching proceedings on television and did not hear the call.

But he describes Pope Francis as someone who knows his trade, with good experience as an archbishop and Jesuit superior, saying he has the ability to put his hands to action in an organised way.

He describes him as a “man of practical reform.”

Pope Benedict expressed some worries about the future of the Church in Europe, as he sees the continent as being in a process of de-Christianising and the Christian element disappearing from the fabric of society.

“By consequence, the Church must find a new form of presence, must change its way of presenting itself,” he reflected.

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