(Anne Leahy was Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See until December, 2012. She spoke to the Cardus Daily Blog today from Montreal.)
Cardus: Ambassador Leahy, were you as shocked as the rest of the world seems to be by today’s announcement of Pope Benedict XVI resigning, or were there signs you saw that the rest of missed?
Anne Leahy: I can tell you that not all of us were surprised. We might be wondering why it would be today on the World Day of the Sick, although there was a consistory for saints anyway so I guess it was convenient. But many of us in Rome had noticed in April, 2009 that when the pope when to visit the victims of the earthquake in l’Aquila, he actually made a point of stopping in a cathedral next door to the tomb of Celestine V, who is of course the 85-year-old pope who resigned six months after being made pope. (Benedict) went to pray at the tomb, and he left behind his pallium. So we were all intrigued by that. Then the following summer, there was Peter Seewald’s interview in the book The Light of the World where the pope is asked, and replies affirmatively, that if he felt physically incapable of carrying out his duties he would resign. I remember a few of us were saying ‘well, the pope is giving clear signals here and we would not be surprised if he decided to resign.’ And I can tell you that Tim Fischer, he was my Australian colleague at the Holy See, wrote a book where he says he wouldn’t be surprised if the pope did resign, pointing to those events in 2009 and 2010.
Cardus: What would Benedict’s motivation have been for taking such an unusual step? We’re told this hasn’t happened for almost 600 years.
Anne Leahy: The pope is a very modern person. He’s a man of faith and reason. Reason is important. It is what distinguishes our faith from a purely blind faith such as Islam. The pope has always said that man’s reason intervenes in faith. He thinks of the Church first and he felt he was no longer physically capable. The exact words he uses are incapacità a governale. So he feels he can’t do justice to the Church in these very trying times.
Remember, this is a pope who talks about conscientious objection for a Catholic in today’s society: people have to do that. He also talks about Christianophobia and that sort of thing. So he measures very well the challenges for the Church. He finds that he has no longer the strength, so he is renouncing his charge.
Cardus: Do you think that he would have compared what his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, went through with his incredible Polish toughness and refusal to concede for one moment? Would he have seen that as much as we admired John Paul II for his toughness, he did become a visual symbol of a Church that was not functioning as it should? Would he have thought about and said ‘I’m not going to let that happen to me and more importantly to the Church?’
Anne Leahy: Yes, I do think so.
Cardus: Would he have been concerned by John Paul II’s long goodbye leaving an organizational vacuum that in, some ways, affected Benedict’s own papacy and made it that much more difficult?
Anne Leahy: My personal view is—I won’t make comparisons with John Paul II—it’s clear that Benedict has lived through that and has seen it up close. I’m sure that Benedict saw the need for a renewal in the internal governance of the Church. When the pope resigns, it brings an immediate renewal. (Vatican second-in-command Cardinal) Bertone will have to be replaced, to be blunt, with the arrival of a new pope. The pope, who is very intelligent and very lucid and much more on top of modern governance than he is given credit for, saw what was happening around him. He saw that Bertone was not capable, not up to the task, of running the Church under a teacher pope like Benedict, and I’m sure he (Benedict) suffered greatly because of that.
I met the pope on Dec. 13, 2012 and I can attest that the man was very diminished. He no longer had his physical strength. He was also well aware of the difficulty of Bertone managing such a large organization, to put it simply, and therefore he saw that once (Cardinal Bertone) is replaced, it would be a breath of fresh air. There would be new pope and a new second in command. The stewardship of the institutional Church in Rome needs reinforcing, and that will happen now.
Cardus : Are you taking bets on what name Cardinal Angelo Scola (Archbishop of Milan) will take when he becomes pope?
Anne Leahy: (laughs): The only answer I will give you is that the Holy Spirit will decide who is the next pope and we’ll take it from there.
Cardus: Obviously we don’t know what the outcome is until the outcome comes out, but I wonder if you would agree there is a strong argument for a Latin American elevation. After all, it opens up two opportunities. First, it acknowledges the incredible shift in the Church’s axis away from Europe and part of North America. Second, it achieves an American papacy without the next pope having to be someone from the United States because the Catholic Church in the U.S. is now a hugely Hispanic Church.
Anne Leahy: Yes, but I think we have to be careful. It’s true that Hispanics are the largest growing segment but this geographical analytical framework is not my framework. My framework is that the next pope will be the pope who brings back, under one Catholic wing, the so-called liberals and the more traditional types. The Church in the United States is notable for one thing: the horrible divisions between the so-called conservatives and the so-called liberals. It (sends) a very bad signal around the world. Benedict was trying to bring those two sides together. His legacy was to try very hard for unity. He cleaned out the Church, but he is also a man of unity. The next pope will be one that most cardinals wish to restore unity in the Church. I don’t think geographical analysis works here.