New book on the legacy of Pope Benedict

For the journalist Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI became his very personal teacher of faith. Now Seewald summarises in a book what he sees as the late Pope's legacy for the Church and the world.

Pope Benedict XVI has been dead for just one month - since then, books about him have been appearing in rapid succession. His long-time secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, made headlines with his notes shortly after the funeral service. Peter Seewald's publishing house Hoffmann und Campe waited 31 days: Benedict's Legacy" will be published there on 1 February. The journalist followed the life of Joseph Ratzinger for a good 30 years; he wrote books of interviews and other works including a biography (2020) about him.

On 400 pages, Seewald has once again summarised what the German Pope's legacy is for the Church and the world. In the prologue, he praises him as a man who wrote history. For Seewald, who once left the Church and briefly became a Marxist and who, like Ratzinger, comes from Old Bavaria, the Cardinal and Pope became an impressive interlocutor. He had succeeded in reconciling faith and reason.

"His way of teaching was reminiscent of spiritual masters who do not convince through vain lessons, but through quiet gestures, hidden hints, long-suffering," notes Seewald. The author knows how to explain "his Ratzinger" with a brisk pen. To make it easier for readers to immerse themselves in this cosmos, he has decided against too long paragraphs. In a question-and-answer game, he succeeds in explaining the career and thinking of the churchman.

At times, Seewald raises his finger: "If the Catholic Church in Germany had followed Ratzinger's line, it would perhaps not have more members today, but it would have a higher profile and a stronger faith in order to do justice to its task of being a genuine partner in solving the difficult questions of modern civilisation through convincing ethics."

Defence of Ratzinger the teacher

Otherwise, the author can draw on a fund of statements and quotations from the Pope. The reader virtually takes a ride through almost a century of church and theological history. The names of some of the theologians, if not Hans Küng, will probably only mean something to insiders.

Somehow the book also reads as a kind of application by a convinced student for the early canonisation of his teacher. He defends him against journalists who are allegedly ill-disposed towards him, which Seewald identifies above all in Germany.

The role in the Munich abuse report

And Ratzinger? He "did not complain. Even about his penetrating opponent Hans Küng, who insulted him badly, he knew positive things to say." When Seewald gets going, he emphasises how far forward-thinking Benedict was, calling him the "spin doctor" of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Above all, however, as Pope he initiated the reforms "for which Francis is praised". It was Benedict who laid the foundations for clarification, prevention and atonement in the troubled issue of abuse.

Seewald devotes a separate dossier to the Munich abuse report presented in January 2022. He deals with the accusations made against Ratzinger during his time as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982 and follows his defenders: the report does not provide proof of the misconduct that was repeatedly accused. "Certainly he did not do everything right. In the end, time will judge what significance Joseph Ratzinger will have beyond this day," Seewald concludes.

The last letter

What happened in the last six months of the life of the ex-Pope, who died on New Year's Eve, is not mentioned in the book. A last letter that reached Seewald from Rome in October was only published by the magazine "Focus" in the last few days. In it, Benedict reveals that persistent insomnia was the decisive reason for his resignation in February 2013. Seewald hopes that this will once and for all put an end to other speculations surrounding the spectacular departure of the German Pope.



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