Is He Still the Pope?
Book Review by Giuseppe Pellegrino
“Total darkness occurs when everyone closes their eyes.”
Antonio Socci opens his investigation into the mystery of Pope Benedict XVI by noting a paradox: “The present crisis has a cause that is searched for in every possible place, while the whole time it is sitting right in front of everyone’s eyes, in plain view.” The cause that no one wants to look at, says Socci, is “a crisis of the loss of faith, of modernism and apostasy that has spread even to the leadership of the Church.” If we are willing to look at what is right in front of us, says Socci, and meticulously analyze the facts and connect them – not as we might wish them to be but as they are, a Church that has “closed its eyes” will begin to see a way out of the crisis that engulfs her. Socci, a veteran Italian journalist who has already delved into the mystery behind the story of the secrets of Fatima with The Fourth Secret of Fatima and the subterfuge surrounding the 2013 conclave with Non è Francesco, again delivers a highly-detailed investigation of a topic of extreme interest for the Church in the midst of the present unprecedented crisis, inviting his readers to a more deeply spiritual reflection on “the signs of the times.”
The most obvious “sign”, and the central focus of the book’s investigation, is the fact of the enduring presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the heart of the Vatican and the Church. Since his resignation on February 28, 2013, “Joseph Ratzinger has remained in the ‘enclosure of Peter’ [the Vatican], still signs his name Benedict XVI, still calls himself ‘pope emeritus,’ still uses the papal heraldic insignia and continues to dress as pope” (p. 62). In contrast to past popes who resigned, Benedict has not chosen to leave the Vatican or to return to the state of a cardinal or bishop. Rather, he has done something unexpected (above and beyond the extraordinarily unexpected act of resignation), resigning without fully resigning, what Socci calls a “relative” resignation: “It is evident that, although he made a relative resignation of the papacy (but of what sort?), he has intended to remain as pope, although in an enigmatic way and in an unprecedented form, which has not been explained – at least not yet” (p. 61).
Stating the above facts will generate myriad reactions in the present ecclesiastical climate, which has clearly entered a new phase of volatility since the announcement on Sunday, January 12, 2020 of the publication of a new book co-authored by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah defending the wisdom of the Church’s tradition of priestly celibacy. Some observers are convinced that Benedict ought to remain silent, while others express frustration that Benedict has not chosen to say more about the apostasy and confusion that the Bergoglian revolution promotes and encourages in any number of ways. But Socci takes a step back from the cacophony and invites his readers to reflect and contemplate: there is something unprecedented and mysterious going on in the Church in which the Holy Spirit is at work, something which nobody yet fully understands, and which calls for silence, intercession, and prayer as a more effective response to the battle going on in the Church and the world rather than raised voices and critical judgment. The first one giving the example of such a prayerful response is Benedict XVI himself, who has freely chosen (perhaps directed to do so, Socci wonders, by God himself?) to respond to the crisis by offering himself in intercessory prayer for the Church and for the world.
The Origin of the Drama
In Part One of The Secret of Benedict XVI, “The Mystical, Economic, and Political Origin of the Drama,” Socci meticulously documents the facts of the present situation in the Church, in which he observes that, since 2005, there have de facto been two parties struggling for control, those favoring Ratzinger and those favoring Bergoglio. These two parties may be broadly defined as those favoring a revolution in the Church (the party of Bergoglio) and those who oppose such a revolution by calling for fidelity to the Tradition of the Church (the party of Ratzinger). Far from being limited to an intra-Church struggle, Socci observes that there is a movement of “neo-capitalist globalization which is ideologically anti-Catholic” seeking to dominate the entire world, and that it is this anti-Catholic ideological movement which has actively worked to undermine the Church from within by seeking and obtaining the ascendance of Jorge Bergoglio to the papal throne. This “politically correct” secularist ideology, says Socci, was imposed on the world at a new level under “the presidency of Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton”, seeking “the planetary hegemony of the United States and of financial globalization,” and one of the greatest obstacles to this world-wide agenda was the pontificate of Benedict XVI (p. 10). Benedict, who had worked for decades as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith resisting the advance of Modernism within the Catholic Church, became as pope “a huge sign of contradiction with respect to the cultural mainstream, the media, and the designs of worldly powers who were aiming at a true and proper ‘normalization’ of the Catholic Church by means of what they called an ‘opening to modernity,’ that is, a Protestantization, that would sweep away the Church’s fundamental distinguishing marks” (p. 12). Socci maintains that Benedict was aware of the enormity of this global and ecclesial struggle from the moment of his election, and he sought to help the Christian people become aware of it by placing these extraordinary and surprising words in the midst of his homily at his solemn enthronement as Pope on April 24, 2005: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves” (p. 14).
Socci advances the thesis that these wolves were and are far more than hostile elements within the Church, but also include geo-political elements seeking the political ascendance of Islam and also the marginalization of Russia. Benedict got in the way of both of these agendas because of his willingness to challenge Islam to embrace a dialogue based on reason that would cause it to renounce violence (recall his 2006 Regensburg speech) and also his ecumenical overtures to the Russian Orthodox Church. The “wolves” of globalization sought to stir up a revolution within the Church analogous to that of the “Arab spring” in the Muslim world. Just as the United States government actively sought regime change in other nations to advance its political agenda, so the Obama/Clinton alliance worked in coordination with financier George Soros to seek to “change the priorities of the Catholic Church.” Socci also documents other elements which sought the election of Bergoglio as pope, who upon his election as Pope Francis embraced an agenda fully in accord with the secularist agenda of Obama/United Nations globalization: “catastrophic environmentalism (with pollution and global warming replacing the notions of sin and original sin), ideological immigrationism (replacing the new commandment), the embrace of Islam and pro-Protestant ecumenism, the obscuring of doctrine and the attack on the sacraments, the abandonment of non-negotiable principles, and a ‘merciful’ opening to new sexual practices and new forms of ‘marital’ union” (p. 56). It would be difficult to find a more succinct summary and explanation of the agenda of the Francis pontificate than this list given by Socci, complete with geo-political context.
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The Mystery and Paradox of the “Pope Emeritus”
Part Two of Il Segreto is called “That Which Is Not Understood: Benedict Is Pope Forever.” Socci introduces the section with a quotation from the Italian author Gianni Baget Bozzo’s 2001 book L’Anticristo: “The history of the Church is full of states of exception” (p. 58), along with a quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Ephesians which Benedict XVI used in his preface to Cardinal Robert Sarah’s 2017 book The Power of Silence: “It is better to remain in silence and be, than to speak and not be” (p. 59). It is evident that Socci finds these words to correspond, respectively, to Benedict and Francis.
Socci analyzes in great detail Benedict’s various statements prior to his resignation in February 2013 and notes that Benedict clearly “with full liberty” intended that there would be “a conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff,” and yet simultaneously declared, “I wish also to serve devotedly the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer” (p. 68). He further specified on February 27, 2013, that his “yes” in accepting his election as pope was and is irrevocable: “The ‘always’ is also a ‘forever’ – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.” Benedict also declared: “I have taken this step with full awareness of its gravity and even its novelty” (p. 79). What is this novelty? According to the canonist Stefano Violi, whom Socci cites, it is “the limited resignation of the active exercise of the munus” of the Roman Pontiff (p. 82). This entirely new action by Benedict – which makes his pontificate, in the controversial words of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, a “pontificate of exception” – was necessitated by the emergence of an entirely new situation in the life of the Church. The present crisis – unprecedented in all of Church history – has called for an unprecedented response. Benedict’s “choice to become ‘pope emeritus’ represents something enormous and contains a ‘secret’ of colossal importance for the Church” (p. 85). There is clearly, in Socci’s analysis, something which Pope Benedict is holding back and not saying, “a true and personal call from God,” “a mystery the pope is guarding – that cannot be revealed, at least for now (p. 101). Socci proposes that this “secret of Benedict XVI” is “exquisitely spiritual,” rooted in wisdom “according to God” which the present world – and also the present Church – cannot understand.
Socci observes the many ways that Benedict’s present life and witness is bearing great fruit for the Church during the “Bergoglian epoch.” First and foremost are the rich texts of his papal Magisterium, which remain a guiding light for the Church because they are in union with the unbroken Tradition of the perennial Magisterium (the appearance of the new book, From The Depths Of Our Hearts, only underscores Socci’s point). There is also of course his unceasing prayer for the Church offered within the “enclosure of Peter.” But Socci further avers that Benedict’s restrained silence has done far more to prevent the Bergoglian Revolution from doing all that it would like to than most people yet realize. Socci likens Benedict to the figure of Christ silent before Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, saying that “the same silent presence…has averted the most serious doctrinal rifts” from taking place within the Church, because as long as Benedict is alive the Bergoglian revolutionaries know that one word of condemnation from the Pope Emeritus could de-legitimize Francis in the eyes of much of the Church (p. 116). Benedict has chosen, not to abandon the flock to the wolves, but rather to resist the wolves with the logic of the Gospel, with “the weakness of God” that is “stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25), aware that this is an historical moment when, as he observed at Fatima in 2010, “the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church” (p. 128).
The Connection to Fatima
Socci concludes his work with Part Three entitled “Fatima and the Last Pope.” He draws on his prior extensive study of the message of Fatima, seeing it as a key to understanding the present moment in the Church, and reminding his readers that the message of Fatima emphasized the strong link between the intercession of the Mother of God and the protection of the pope. At the center of the vision of Fatima there are two persons: “the ‘bishop dressed in white’ and an old pope,” and Socci ponders whether perhaps this vision could refer to the present situation, noting that on May 21, 2017, while visiting Fatima, Pope Francis called himself “the bishop dressed in white.” Socci sees in Benedict a figure similar to the pope in the children’s vision: “half trembling, with halting steps, afflicted with suffering and pain crossing a great city half in ruins” (p. 141). Socci undertakes a detailed examination of overlooked words of the children of Fatima, stating that the Blessed Virgin told them that if humanity did not do penance and convert, “the world will end” (p. 152). Sister Lucia declared in an interview in 1957 that “Russia will be the instrument chosen by God to punish the entire world, if we do not first obtain the conversion of that disgraced nation” (p. 155). Implicit in Socci’s analysis and reflection is the sense that the outcome of the present crisis is of the utmost importance for the fate, not only of the entire Church, but also of the entire world.
Socci’s final observation is that the medieval “Prophecy of Malachy,” which proposed to give a mysterious title to each future pope, ends with Benedict XVI. After this pope it mysteriously says that there follows “the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church” and the figure of “Peter the Roman”. When asked in 2016 whether this prophecy could mean that he is “the last one to represent the figure of the pope as we have known him up until now,” Benedict mysteriously replied, “Everything is possible [Tutto puo’ essere].” Further asked if this would mean that he would be seen as the last pope of the old world or the first pope of the new world, Benedict replied, “I would say both. I don’t belong to the old world any more, but the new world isn’t really here yet” (p. 166). Socci understands these astonishing comments to mean that both the world and the Church is on the cusp of epochal upheavals, inviting his readers to further reflection on the various prophecies in Scripture of the destruction of the Temple and on paragraphs 675-677 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the final trial of the Church.
Socci writes with an engaging and dramatic style, inviting the reader to understand that something far greater than has yet been understood is at work in the life of the Church and in human history. He offers a thoughtful proposal, and an invitation to pray and reflect and ponder, not certainty or legal explanations. This book, with its meticulous journalistic analysis and spiritual reflection, offers hope to a discouraged Church and an invitation to prayerfully believe that perhaps more good is at work in a hidden way than the obvious evil which currently is so active within both the Church and on the global stage. Socci offers his work as a gift of love for the Church, broken and battered, to reflect upon and ponder. “It is not power which redeems,” said Pope Benedict in his inaugural address, ‘but love.” It is this same love which Socci says Benedict is daily offering to the Church by his unprecedented and heroic, albeit widely misunderstood witness: “He is the great sentinel of God of our time. It is he who has raised a great wall of defense for all of us in the time of the mysterium iniquitatis” (p. 147).
Lies and deception got us into this mess. The truth of the facts will get us out
May this book inspire many to pray ever more incessantly and fervently for and with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
The Secret of Benedict XVI: Is He Still The Pope? (Angelico Press, 2019).
(The title was changed from the original Italian “Why He Is Still Pope”)
Follow Giuseppe Pellegrino on Twitter @pellegrino2020
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