ROME – In a series of letters leaked to the press, retired Pope Benedict XVI chastised a German cardinal for criticizing his decision to resign from the papacy, saying an understandable pain as a result of the move has turned into “anger” against him, and has devalued his papacy.
The letters, obtained by German newspaper Bild, were addressed to Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, 89, one of four “dubia” cardinals who challenged Pope Francis’s teaching on marriage and family following the publication of his 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.
President emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, Brandmüller was a firm supporter of Benedict XVI during his papacy, however, he has long been vocal in his criticism of Benedict’s decision to resign in 2013.
In response to Brandmüller’s complaints in his letters to Benedict that the decision to step down has thrown the Church into crisis, causing serious damage, Benedict issued a sharp rebuke, telling the cardinal that “I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has inflicted on you and many others.”
“However, for some people and – it seems to me – also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole,” Benedict said.
“By this, a papacy itself is now being devalued and melted into the sorrow about the situation in which the Church currently finds itself,” he said, adding “if you know a better way (than resignation) and therefore think that you can judge the one chosen by me, please tell me,” he added.
The correspondence between the two, which dates back to 2017, comes as the Church, and particularly the reign of Francis, have fallen into crisis due to backlash from the ongoing sexual abuse crisis. Specifically, Francis faces pressure over assertions from a former ambassador to the United States that he knew about allegations of misconduct against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and did nothing.
In an 11-page letter, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano claims, among other things, that Francis either ignored or rescinded private restrictions Benedict had placed on McCarrick, turning to the prelate as a close advisor.
While papal supporters might see Benedict’s letters as a rebuke of Francis’s critics, many of whom felt betrayed by the German pontiff’s resignation, those who have been critical of Francis might take Benedict’s phrase “melted into sorrow” about the current state of the Church as a criticism of the current pontificate.