ROME (AP) — The 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 scheduling challenges related to soccer’s World Cup.
Archbishop Georg Gaenswein says in comments published Sunday in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, that a doctor had told Benedict XVI at one point to stop taking trans-Atlantic flights, presumably after a grueling March 2012 journey to Mexico and Cuba.
At that time, Catholic World Youth Day gatherings were being staged every three years, and by that timetable, Brazil would have hosted the event in 2014. But because Brazil was also due to host the World Cup in 2014, the Catholic youth jamboree was moved up to 2013.
Gaenswein said Benedict would have tried to hold on to make the trip in 2014, but given the moved-up time frame, he realized he wouldn’t be able to make another long overseas outing in such short order.
So Benedict, now living in a Vatican convent, resigned in February 2013.
Benedict, 89, now living 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.
Gaenswein also 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 also revealed that while Benedict continues to enjoy taking walks, his steps these days are “ever more brief.”