by Cardinal Filone
Grand Master of the Chivalric Order of the Holy Sepulcher
WHO IS POPE BENEDICT XVI?
This is the question that arises in the minds of many in recent days; days of great suffering for him and for the Church.
At the beginning of his pontificate (2005) he wanted to say of himself that he perceived himself as a humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord, thinking of the parable recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (21, 33-43). In that parable, Jesus stigmatized the behavior of those who, with their infidelity, ruined that vineyard planted with sacrifice and dedication. In that vineyard, loved by God, to be well cultivated, the owner had sent workers. It belonged to him and the workers should have looked after it and not possessed it.
I have known Benedict XVI personally especially since, at the beginning of his pontifical ministry, he called me to Rome from the Philippines, where a year earlier he had appointed me as his pontifical representative. I remember our first meeting well; it was the beginning of July 2007. He had appointed me Substitute of the Secretariat of State, that is, one of his closest collaborators. This allowed me to attend him at least weekly to talk about the issues that were close to his heart and to receive appropriate information on many aspects of the life of the Curia and of the Church.
The office of the Substitute was also entrusted with the organization of papal travels, so in the four years that I remained in office, before appointing myself Prefect of the Congregation for Missions in the world, I was able to accompany him to the various countries where he made his apostolic journeys.
In those years the ‘question of pedophilia’ in the Church emerged with virulence. It was not known in the terms in which it gradually emerged. But Benedict XVI’s desire to face it with determination was always clear to me.
In this I can testify above all to his profound and very high moral and intellectual honesty.
This is indubitable, even if there is no shortage of those who are raging against it today. They are free to do so, but I can affirm that I have never found in him any shadow or attempt to hide or minimize anything. Nor can his delicacy in dealing with things of profound moral sense be mistaken for uncertainty or anything else.
I am also well aware of his immense disturbance in the face of serious ecclesial issues and I clearly remember an expression of him which he uttered with a deep sigh: “How inscrutable is the abyss into which one falls for human misery!”. This distressed him intimately and at times he remained silent for a long time. All the more so if these human miseries touched men of the Church.
He had a perceptible sensitivity for the victims. When in preparation for his apostolic journeys (United States, Australia, etc.) he received requests for meetings with the victims of abuse, he told me about them; he wanted to know my thoughts on how to accommodate these requests. I can affirm that he recommended two aspects to which he cared very much: 1) the profound respect for the victims whose identity was to be safeguarded; therefore he wanted the meetings to take place away from the gaze of the cameras or other visual tools. He didn’t want witnesses, but he wanted me to be among the very few discreetly present; 2) he wanted the meeting not to be a kind of ‘audience’ with a simple handshake and a quick glance, but a real prayer meeting; had a spiritual dimension and took place before God from whom it was necessary to implore mercy. This is why he accepted the idea that the meetings would take place in the chapel, in front of the Most Holy Eucharist. Thus, after a few minutes of prayer with the victims, after heavy relational moments, he used to recite the Our Father together; he paid attention to each of them, he listened with visible and palpable emotion and at the end he entrusted each one with a rosary.
In those meetings there was not only the sense of humiliation suffered by the victims, but also the humiliation of a man of the Church who could never have imagined that such degrading actions could happen, and yet now offered the balm of prayer and the relief of a solidarity in the name of that God who humbled Himself and took upon Himself the human condition and its sins. In every encounter there was always expressed a true human and spiritual sense. There was still the trust in God of deeply moved brothers and sisters; there was a request for forgiveness from the whole Church to God, and there was a commitment that would have seen Benedict XVI combine mercy and justice. What he did by means of measures that were not in existence until then.
This is Benedict XVI whom I have known closely. A ‘Shepherd’ a ‘Worker’ of the Lord’s vineyard who has always had at heart a profound “concern for all the Churches” and for an afflicted, fallen and godless humanity, in accordance with what he had to say while visiting, in that distant afternoon of April 25, 2005, the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura, the Apostle to the nations.
(Google translation of Italian original, from Aci Stampa)