ROME — The longtime personal aide to the emeritus pontiff, Benedict XVI, says the increasingly frail pope had hoped to stay in the papacy until 2014 but resigned a year earlier because of soccer’s World Cup.
Monsignor Georg Gaenswein’s revealing comments about Benedict, who stunned the world in February 2013 by announcing he would be the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, came in a speech the aide gave in Munich last month.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera carried excerpts on Sunday from the speech, which was delivered when Gaenswein presented “The Last Conversations,” a book based on Benedict’s interview comments to a German journalist Peter Seewald.
In his speech, Gaenswein said a doctor had told Benedict he could no longer take trans-Atlantic flights. That posed a dilemma, because as pontiff, Benedict would have been expected to appear at World Youth Day, a popular Catholic event, with its latest edition at the time being organized for Rio de Janeiro.
At that time, World Youth Day gatherings were being held every three years, and by that timetable Brazil would have hosted the event in 2014.
“But World Youth Day that should have taken place in 2014 was moved up because of the soccer World Cup games,” which Brazil was hosting in 2014, the aide note. “Otherwise he would have tried to resist until 2014,” Gaenswein said.
Benedict, 89, now lives in a Vatican convent, stepped down from the papacy on Feb. 28, 2013, five months before the Youth Day gathering, which was attended by Pope Francis, who succeeded him as pontiff.
In the speech, Gaenswein said that in the early 1990s, Benedict, then in his role as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told Pope John Paul II he could no longer work as the Vatican’s watchdog for doctrinal orthodoxy as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger had suffered a brain hemorrhage, prompting the request to resign the post, Gaenswein said, but John Paul “categorically refused his resignation.”
After Ratzinger in 1994 suffered an embolism, vision in his left eye deteriorated, Gaenswein said.
“From that point on, thus, already years before his election” as pope, in 2005, “he saw very badly with his left eye. But he didn’t let it weigh him down. A semi-blind pope! Who would have ever known?” Gaenswein added.
The aide, who still assists Benedict, expressed sadness that the churchman no longer can take the long walks that were part of a cherished routine.
“Today I see with my own eyes how that passionate stroller is able to complete day after day only ever shorter steps,” he said.