ROME—During the days following his historic resignation, many observers speculated that an alleged “gay lobby” within the Vatican had pressured Benedict XVI to step down. In a new interview-book, the emeritus pope admits to the existence of such a lobby, but says it had only “four or five members” and that he’d managed to dismantle it.
Benedict XVI, Final Conversations is the title of the book to be released worldwide on September 9.
This is the first time a pope, or a pope emeritus, has acknowledged on the record that the Vatican either has or had a “gay lobby”. Pope Francis reportedly said one existed soon after his election in 2013, when he had a private meeting with the leaders of the Latin American Confederation of Religious Orders (CLAR).
Yet the Vatican said that encounter was a private one, and CLAR released a statement saying the words couldn’t be attributed to the pope.
Soon afterwards, on a flight back from Brazil in July 2013, when he delivered his famous “Who am I to judge” soundbite, Francis was dismissive of the idea of a lobby, saying that even though much has been written about it, “I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with ‘gay’ on it.”
He distinguished between a person being gay and forming a lobby, saying, “[A gay lobby] is not good.”
In effect, what Vatican-watchers mean by a “gay lobby” is a network of gay clergy who protect one another’s secrets and try to help one another inside the system.
In the 240-page conversation between Benedict and German writer Peter Seewald, the pope emeritus also talks about his papacy and that of his successor, his resignation, and his life as retired pontiff.
This is the fourth time the conversations between the two have resulted in a book. The first two were from when Benedict was still cardinal, in 1996 and 2000. The last one, Light of the World, came out in 2010.
According to Italian journalist Luigi Accattoli, who previewed the book on Friday’s edition of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Benedict speaks both about what he has in common with Pope Francis, and about that which distinguishes the two.
Accattoli says that Benedict talks about following Francis’ election on TV from Castel Gandolfo, a summer papal residence where he stayed during the first days after his resignation.
“[Benedict] admits to being ‘surprised’ by the name of his successor: he had thought of some names, ‘but not his,’” Accattoli writes.
However, “after the surprise came the ‘joy’ of seeing how the new pope prayed and communicated with the crowd,” he adds.
Pope Francis and his predecessor were recently seen together, celebrating Benedict’s 65th anniversary of priestly ordination, marked on June 29, when the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, also known as the “Pope’s Day.
On his resignation, the pope emeritus says that he only included a “few people” in his decision because he feared the news would leak. He also says he made the announcement in Latin instead of Italian because, despite having lived in Rome for over three decades, Benedict was afraid of making a grammatical mistake in the local language.
Benedict also acknowledges that he lacked decisiveness in governing, saying that he’d presented St. John Paul II with his resignation from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith only to have it denied time and time again.
He says he kept notes during his papacy regarding many issues, which he’s planning to destroy.
Yet the first man to step down from the See of Peter in 600 years rejects the idea of having been a pope too “concentrated on studying and writing,” and rejects the label of a “restorer” when it comes to liturgy, meaning someone who sought to turn back the clock on the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
From his childhood, his growing up in Nazi-controlled Germany, the reason behind choosing his papal name and his attempts at cleaning up the “dirt in the Church,” meaning the clerical sexual abuse, the short preview released on Friday suggests that no topic was off the table.
In effect, it’s the first time in history a pope emeritus has offered an appraisal of his own papacy.