Benedict XVI’s pontificate ends now, not 10 years ago. In fact, even in these years of prayer and silence, the emeritus pope has let his voice be heard, especially on the issue that he had already identified as decisive for the Church at this time, clergy sexual abuse. In fact, the only writings of his that have appeared in recent years deal with abuse: the first, a text that appeared as an article in a German magazine in 2019, had been prepared as a memorandum for the conference on abuses planned and held in the Vatican, and that, however, was not taken into account. The letter of the Pope emeritus insisted on the need to judge and punish all the guilty justly, that is, in the same way: something that has not happened, as we see, for example, regarding the recent Rupnik case.
His latest text is also related to the subject of abuse, the one with which he responds to accusations of having protected an abusive priest when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Benedict XVI writes warning that the moment in which he will appear before the supreme judge is approaching, and he pleads not guilty in the case of the priest in question, but admits that he feels responsible for all the abuses committed in the Church, having played roles in it of utmost importance. Benedict XVI is the only exponent of the ecclesiastical hierarchies who, in the face of the abuse scandal, does not take refuge in the idea that those responsible are a few rotten apples in a healthy tissue, but rather denounces the total involvement of the institution in the blame and apologize for it. Once again, his gigantic figure stands out in a panorama of mediocre people who try to save themselves by hiding behind flimsy pretexts. Once again, we have proof of the courage and love for the truth that moved the actions of this man, and that shine through in each of his acts.
Even Ratzinger’s relationship with women, a great problem for the Church in contemporary times, was characterized by courage and truth, without falling into easy ideological temptations, but open to innovation. What he thought of women in the Church he made clear with a brave new choice made at the beginning of his pontificate: that of declaring the medieval nun Hildegard of Bingen, who was not even a saint, a Doctor of the Church. And she not only had she never been canonized, but she was considered a marginal and somewhat disturbing figure; an image also recently confirmed by the fact that she had been rediscovered by feminists as a composer of music, and by environmentalists as an author of books on natural remedies. But Benedict XVI did not stop at these appearances, and first obtained the canonization, and then the proclamation as a doctor of the church, of a 12th-century mystic, author of prophetic and theological works, of encyclopedias on all the knowledge of the time, of poetic compositions, music and medical treatises. A true intellectual, founder of three monasteries, with enough authority to dialogue with popes and emperors in order to push them to behaviors more consistent with Christian morality. And she, one last but important quality, she capable of preaching against the Cathar heresy in all the cathedrals of southern Germany, where the clergy failed.
A revolutionary woman, of course, very different from the image of an obedient woman that the Catholic tradition also proposed to emancipated women in our times.
In the same new way, Ratzinger interprets Marian devotion in his works, which offers him the way to passionately defend the central role of women within the Judeo-Christian tradition: “Omitting women in theology as a whole means denying creation and election (salvation history) and therefore suppress revelation.” And he reiterates that “the figure of the woman occupies an irreplaceable place in the general structure of faith and piety in the Old Testament.”
In a book-interview by the German journalist Seewald, Pope Benedict clearly affirms “the ontological equality of man and woman. They are one gender and have one dignity ”, but he recalls the function of the difference between the sexes as an opportunity for growth and expansion:“ Man was created with the need for the other so that he could go beyond himself ” . And he does not hide the fact that this difference also constitutes a potential drama: “Together they will be one flesh, one human being. This passage contains all the drama of the partiality of the two genders, of mutual dependence, of love.
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All this was captured by meeting Pope Benedict personally and I can attest to it: as a woman, he never treated me with the paternalism typical of the clergy and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but rather listened to me with attention and respect. I still get emotional when I remember it.
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