Ratzinger’s personal secretary: “He no longer had the strength to lead the Church, those who seek something else in resignation are wrong”
Msgr. Georg Gansweinpersonal secretary of the Pope Emeritus who died on 31 December, recounts the last moments of Benedict XVI’s earthly life. “His last words – Father Georg tells the Vatican media – I didn’t hear them with my own ears, but the night before his death one of the nurses who stood guard overheard them. Around three o’clock: “Lord, I love you” . The nurse told me in the morning as soon as I arrived in the bedroom, these were the last truly understandable words. Usually, we prayed Lauds in front of his bed: that morning too I said to the Holy Father: ‘Let us like yesterday: I pray aloud and she unites spiritually”. In fact, it was no longer possible that he could pray aloud, he was really out of breath. There he only opened his eyes a little – he understood the question – and signaled nod your head. So I started.”
“Around 8 – says Ganswein – he began to breathe more and more laboriously. There were two doctors – Dr. Polisca and a resuscitator – and they told me: ‘We fear that now the time will come when he will have to bear his last fight on the ground.’ I called the memores and also Sister Brigida, I told them to come because it had reached agony. At that moment he was lucid. 15 minutes, all together while Benedict XVI breathed more and more heavily, more and more it was clear that he could not breathe well. So I looked at one of the doctors and asked: “But, is he in agony?”. He said to me: ‘Yes , has started but we don’t know how long it will last'”.
“Everyone then prayed in silence, and at 9.34 they took their last breath. Then we continued our prayers no longer for the dying but for the dead. And we concluded by singing ‘Alma Redemptoris Mater’. He died in the octave of Christmas , his favorite liturgical time, on the day of one of his predecessors – Saint Sylvester, Pope under the Emperor Constantine. He had been elected on the date on which a German Pope is remembered, Saint Leo IX, of Alsace; he died in day of a Roman Pope, San Silvestro. I told everyone: ‘I’ll call Pope Francis right away, he’s the first one who needs to know’. I called him, and he said: ‘I’ll be right away’. I accompanied him to the room bed where he died and I told everyone: ‘Stay’. The Pope said goodbye, I offered him a chair, he sat down next to the bed and prayed. He gave his blessing and then took his leave. This happened on the 31st December”, the story of Msgr. Ganswein.
THE RESIGNATION OF RATZINGER – Benedict XVI resigned because “he no longer had the strength to lead the Church”. Those who look for something else behind the renunciation “make a mistake. He communicated the real reason. Amen”, the personal secretary of the Pope emeritus reiterated. “I myself asked him this same question in various situations, saying to him: ‘Holy Father, they are looking for a conspiracy on the February 11 announcement after the consistory. They are looking, looking, looking…’. Benedetto replied: ‘Who he doesn’t believe that what I said is the real reason for giving up, he won’t believe me even if I say now ‘Believe me, it is!’. This is and remains the only reason and we must not forget it. He had announced this decision to me: ‘ I must do it'”.
Ganswein recalls once again that he was among “the first who tried to dissuade him. And he answered me clearly: “Listen, I’m not asking for your opinion, but I communicate my decision. I prayed, suffered, taken coram Deo”. There are those who do not believe or make theories, saying that they would have “left one part but kept another part”, etc.: all those who say this are only theories about one word or another and in the end they do not trust Benedetto, of what he said. This is really an affront to him. Of course, everyone has his will, his freedom and can say sensible or less sensible things. But the naked truth is this: he no longer had the strength to lead the Church, as he said in Latin that day. I asked: “Holy Father, why in Latin?”. He replied: “This is the language of the Church”. Whoever thinks they can find or must find some other reason, he’s wrong. He communicated the real reason. Amen”.
Archbishop Ganswein then explains that Ratzinger himself was amazed at having lived so long after his resignation: “About three months ago I told him: ‘Holy Father, we are approaching my tenth anniversary of episcopate: Epiphany 2013, Epiphany 2023. We must celebrate”. But it also means ten years from his renunciation. Some say to me: “But how come he gave up saying that he no longer has the strength and then he has still been living for ten years? And he replied: “I must say that I am the first who is amazed that the Lord has given me more time. I was thinking of a year at most, and he gave me 10! And 95 is a good age, but years and old age also have their weight, even for a Pope emeritus “. He still said: “I accepted it and tried to do what I promised: to pray, to be present and above all to accompany my successor with prayer”. And this is very beautiful. I also recommend to some who have problems with this to re-read what Benedict said, thanking Pope Fr ancesco in the Sala Clementina on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Finally, once I jokingly said, in a not very elegant way: “Holy Father, you did the accounts without the innkeeper”… He replied: ‘I didn’t do any accounts: I accepted what the Lord gave me. He gave me this, I have to thank Him. This is my belief. Others may have other ideas, theories or beliefs, but this is mine.”
“The Pope is the first witness of the Gospel, indeed, of the Lord. And there we saw that his words, the words of Peter’s Successor, were not accepted”, he then underlined.
“Benedict – already as a cardinal, already as a professor – had a very great gift. Many say humility: yes, this is true, but also – perhaps this was not seen so well – an ability to accept when people were not right “I agree with what he said. As a professor it is normal: there is confrontation, discussion, the “struggle” between the different topics. In this context, strong words are also used, but without ever hurting and, if possible, without causing controversy. It is another thing when one is bishop and then Pope: he preaches and writes not as a private person, but as someone who has received the mandate to preach and to be the shepherd of a flock.The Pope is the first witness of the Gospel, indeed, of the Lord. And there Ganswein observed – we saw that his words, the words of the Successor of Peter, were not accepted. But this tells us that the leadership of the Church is not done only by commanding, deciding but also by suffering, and this part of the suffering was not small.When he became emeritus, certainly all all the responsibility and the whole pontificate were over for him”.