ROME—It’s a rare, and indeed, singularly unique opportunity to read what a pope really thinks of the job after it has finished. Pontificates generally end in funerals, not retirements. But in the case of Pope Benedict XVI, who spectacularly retired in 2013, we will soon get that rare glimpse of what it’s really like to be pope when his memoir, Benedict XVI: The Last Conversations, is published on September 9 in Italy and Germany.
Benedict, who has been living in relative seclusion at a convent inside Vatican City, has only been seen a handful of times since stepping out of the limelight. But he has apparently been incredibly busy working with German journalist Peter Seewald on his side of history. Italian national daily Corriere Della Sera obtained rights to excerpt the book, which they announced in a full page spread in Friday’s edition called “My Years as Pope.”
Among what will be the most anticipated nuggets in the memoir are Benedict’s struggle with what he refers to as a “powerful gay lobby” of four or five key people who did all they could to influence key decision makers inside the Roman Curia, according to the paper. The existence of a gay lobby is not surprising since Francis admitted as much when he took the reigns of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013. But what’s extraordinary is the admission by a pope how much power they truly had.
Benedict, who retired amid the Vatileaks scandal during which his butler was convicted of stealing papers from his desk, apparently writes in great detail how he struggled to “break up the group” but stops short of blaming them for his landmark decision to retire, which he says he did out of sheer exhaustion and his own admission that he was not such a good manager, or, as he puts it, lacked “resoluteness in governing.”
He denies long-held rumors that he was blackmailed and pressured to leave his post, and instead says he did it “freely.”
He also writes how surprised he was that he was elected pope in 2005 after John Paul II died. He describes the shock of finding out that high-ranking cardinals were holding a secret shadow conclave and had elected him before voting in the formal gathering in the Sistine Chapel. He also says he didn’t sleep for days and was incredibly anxious when he began his pontificate.
The retired pope will also shed light on just how difficult it was for him to combat the “filth that is in the church” and how many people tried to stop his attempts at reforms. All of that should provide a window into just how challenging it is for Pope Francis going forward.
Benedict, who says he kept a diary during his pontificate, will also recall his surprise when the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel heralded the first Latin American pope. He writes that he had a few names in mind, “but not him,” when Jose Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was announced, according to Corriere della Sera. He says he will destroy his diary now that the memoir is being published, even though he admits it might be a “golden opportunity” for historians to see what its really like to be pope.