Book Review: Pope Benedict reveals all

Benedetto XVI Last Testament: In His Own Words

Last Testament

Benedetto XVI interviewed by Peter Seewald 

Benedict XVI and  Peter Seewald combine perfectly in this book length interview.

Benedict is lucid and gives concise answers while Seward is not too diffident: he asks some pointed questions such as whether Benedict considers himself a failure.

This is the fourth time they have collaborated on a book-length interview but the first after Benedict’s resignation.  As it covers his whole life, they take up subjects treated in earlier books but add something new on them.

Benedict is timid and reserved but some personal details emerge:  he is blind in his left eye: he is not a night worker as he needs seven or eight hours sleep; when he runs into intellectual problems he  lies on a couch while he thinks through them; one thing he appreciates about Rome is the pennichella.

The interview is a reminder that, as a young man, the future pope was a hot-shot theologian widely popular and also controversial.   He wanted the Church to reach modern people and made an important contribution to renovation at the Vatican Council.

Later he became identified with conservatism.  

His professor colleague, Hans Kung, spread the message that Ratzinger’s wits were frightened out of him by rebellious students in 1968 but the ex-pope explicitly denies this.   He says that the confused interpretations of the Vatican Council convinced him of the urgent need to defend the Faith from distortions.

He further says that Vatileaks did not cause his resignation, that he felt he had resolved major problems breaking up a small gay lobby in the Vatican and paving the way to clear up the pedophile priests and financial scandals but no longer had the strength necessary for the taxing tasks of a pope.

All this adds up to a denial of the dramatic - crisis story which preceded the election of Francis and was the basis for his attempt at radical reform with an anti- Italian-curialists leitmotif.   So while Benedict praises Francis’s apostolic zeal, he somewhat undercuts the rationale of many of his initiatives.

The book raises the question of to what extent the pre-conclave view of the Vatican was due to overheated media.

The book presents an appealing portrait of a serene, unassuming  figure who admits that he made some errors and that he was not forceful in governing.  Historians may be severer but Benedict got in first.    


288 pages  $US 28