RIP Pope Benedict – What Might have Been For Russia

Waking this morning to the news that Pope Benedict XVI had died, the stream of news and social media sentiments is naturally capitalizing on his passing as different leaders, people, and are making meaning of it. May God grant his soul to rest in a place of just repose.

Abruptly Resigned, and Politicians Capitalized Immediately

While as Pope Emeritus, there was a lot of interviews and stories published that sought to reinforce that Pope Benedict resigned of his own free will and volition. Without arguing over that, I do think that the pressure was placed externally on him to coerce resignation then. I wrote about this speculation at the time – that the SWIFT payment system had been shut off effectively killing the Vatican silently, and the implication was to force him out. At that time, Podesta was promising to politicos that it was time for “a new Catholic spring.” (e.g. Cath. World Rpt. Oct 13, 2016 yes, oct 13). Just recently, in September, Podesta returned again to the White House. This is not to explain the “resignation” but to make a highlight of the event as it pertained to worldly powers. I still think we got an op-ed piece on the resignation by the striking of St. Peter’s with lightning… not just once, but twice on February 11, 2013 just after the resignation was announced.

Stepped into the Hagia Sophia

Only a few years prior, in November of 2006, had Pope Benedict not only gone to Turkey, but added an extra day to his journey in order that he might go to the Hagia Sophia itself. Once the metropolitan seat of Constantinople and largest cathedral in the world, the visit of the Pope stirred emotion worldwide.

The event was typical of Pope Benedict’s life – he didn’t need to say what he meant here. We all knew it, and that’s why it gave the stir.

Like The Thunder and Lightning on Mt. Sinai?

When Moses received the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, there was thunder and lightning. Seems that lightning can be a sign of clear teaching. Both as Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the CDF, and as Pope Benedict XVI, I never had to worry that statements were unclear. For instance, silence recently when it came to the question of whether a self-professed Catholic politician may receive Holy Communion seemed unclear, especially in light of such clear statements in the past, namely by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2008.

Father Hardon made passing references to his work with Cardinal Ratzinger, especially in terms of the need for catechesis.

Father Hardon makes this point of Cardinal Ratzinger:

I spent a week in Rome last month with Cardinal Ratzinger and the commission and the people he’s appointed. How widespread in the Catholic Church, what word do I use, are errors on the most fundamental truths, hear it, on the most fundamental truths of our faith and the fundamental principles of our Catholic morality.

Fr. Hardon, Prodigal Sons and Daughters

He was not afraid to make clear that excesses of the day are wrong as well. A topic that is likewise left silent today.

Promiscuity, infidelity, fornication, and adultery are all natural to human beings. Am I clear? Fornication, sexual promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality – these are natural. So people are just, well, behaving like human beings. That is why Cardinal Ratzinger on one occasion said if he had only one truth to teach for the rest of his life, he would spend whatever years he has got left in teaching original sin.

Fr. Hardon speaking on Marriage

If one parses the attack of modernists on the individual, at its crux is the error that we are all essentially good. Such an attack necessarily omits the effects of original sin on the individual. It also opens the pathway to the lie of “unconditional love,” a topic for another day. It should be noted that as Prefect of the CDF, he did remove a number of modernists.

Constantly Working with Paths of Reunion with the Orthodox

While it wasn’t always discussed, the reception among the Orthodox to Pope Benedict was strong. On April 16, 2008, Benedict’s 81st birthday, a documentary about Pope Benedict aired on Russian State television. It was well received and welcomed in Russia.

A year later, in 2009, Patriarch Kyril of the Russian Church published all of Benedict’s speeches in Russian. That’s a fairly clear endorsement to Russians. It came months after Kyril was elected Patriarch. And it happened just as Russian President Medvedev came to visit the Vatican and specifically to see Pope Benedict. At the time, there was clear discussion of there being a Russian embassy to the Holy See eminently.

Asia News reported that Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kyril saw clear goals of fighting the secularism advancing across Europe. Kyril said, “our positions coincide in the defense of morality and traditional values in the modern world.”

At the time, though, politics certainly were a large player interfering with this goal.

“We can not ignore the problems that persist in the relations between the Catholic and Orthodox,” notes the same Kirill. And the reference is to the issues of Greek-Catholics in Ukraine, the presence of the Patriarchate of Moscow in this country and the alleged proselytizing of the Catholic Church within the “canonical territory of Russia”

Asia News, The speeches of Benedict XVI on Europe published by Patriarch Kyril, Dec 2, 2009

I suspect that as this momentum grew, people could see the Pope Benedict was going to have this “obstacle” solved. Like lightning, he could do something.

One thing he did swiftly: Pope Benedict appointed the first Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation, Archbishop Antonio Mennini. Benedict was going to make things work.

Kyril would make this remark himself in a letter to Benedict on the occasion of his resignation:

We have always been close to your consistent ministry, marked by uncompromisingness in matters of faith and unswerving adherence to the living Tradition of the Church. At a time when the ideology of permissiveness and moral relativism tries to dislodge the moral values of life, you boldly raised your voice in defence of the ideals of the Gospel, the high dignity of man and his vocation to freedom from sin. 

I have warm memories of our meeting when you were elected to the Roman See. During your ministry we received a positive impetus in the relations between our Churches, responding to the modern world as a witness to Christ crucified and risen.  I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor. 

Letter of Kyril to Benedict, 1 March 2013

After nearly ten years, I think hindsight shows that the “spring” from the Pelosi gang sought to drive the wedge. With Benedict out, other operations could continue. In December of 2013, months after Benedict’s “resignation”, the Euromaidan revolution happened in Ukraine. At the time, it was considered to have been a color revolution funded by the United States. Without getting into a debate on that point, it is obvious that the event as well as Pope Benedict’s departure made the situation radically different.

Russians Say the Same of Benedict Today

Archbishop Mennini was cited in Russian State News with:

“Benedict XVI was characterized by a very positive vision of Russia. Of course, he has always been open to ecumenical relations in general and relations with the Moscow Patriarchate in particular. He was a man inspired by the prospects of ecumenism in an attempt to establish an atmosphere of brotherhood and friendship. And it was possible to do it,” Mennini said.

Former Vatican Ambassador: Benedict Looked Positively at Relations with Russian Orthodox Church, Dec 31, 2023

Russian President Putin said of Pope Benedict in a telegram sent to Pope Francis:

“Your Holiness, please accept my deep condolences on the death of His Holiness the Pope at rest of Benedict XVI. Benedict XVI was a prominent religious and statesman, a staunch defender of traditional Christian values. During his pontificate, full-scale diplomatic relations were established between Russia and the Vatican, and ties between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were developed.”

Telegram of Putin reported in RIA Novosti, Putin Expresses Condolences at Passing of Pope Francis Dec 31 2023 [roughly translated by JBM]

Similarly, Kyril’s communication to Pope Francis:

“The unconditional authority of Benedict XVI as an outstanding theologian allowed him to make a significant contribution to the development of inter-Christian cooperation, a testimony about Christ in the face of a secularized world and to the protection of traditional moral values


“During the pontificate of Benedict XVI, relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have developed significantly in the spirit of fraternal cooperation and the desire to interact on the way to overcome the sometimes painful legacy of the past,”

RIA Novosti, Patriarch Kirill expressed condolences on the death of Benedict XVI Dec 31, 2023

From those who dealt with Pope Benedict in Russia, two themes were constant: 1) he was a force against secularism; and, 2) he was a force uniting the churches.

While it is a matter of debate as to all the circumstances of his resignation, it is obvious that his removal from office did alter the trajectory of Rome-Moscow relations, and may well have set Ukraine on the trajectory it finds itself in today. One cannot help but wonder, as with so many other situations (*ahem* need I remind anyone of the “Benedict Report”? where is that thing?), how differently things might be today had he been able to continue as Pope. I’m sure he knows now, though, as I’m sure he and Our Lord discussed it all already.

May his memory be eternal!

This article, RIP Pope Benedict – What Might have Been For Russia is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.

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