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In New Book, Antonio Socci Speculates on the “Secret of Benedict XVI”

Il segreto di Benedetto XVI. Perché è ancora papa
Antonio Socci
146 pages
Language: Italian only
$10.99 Kindle

Editor’s Introduction: It is a work already being discussed in Catholic circles around the world despite the fact that it is currently available only in Italian. The latest book from Italian journalist Antonio Socci – an early critic of Pope Francis and an expert on the Fatima messages – has an undeniably provocative title: The Secret of Benedict XVI: Why He Is Still Pope. 

1P5’s Italian translator, Giuseppe Pellegrino, has already read the controversial new Socci book twice. In his review below – the first to be published in English – he presents the arguments Socci advances about the totally “unprecedented and mysterious” situation of a pope emeritus living within the Vatican while his successor rules from the throne of St. Peter. Socci opines, “It is evident that, although he made a relative resignation of the papacy (but of what sort?), he has intended to remain as pope, although purely in an enigmatic way and unofficial form, which has not been explained.” It is in this sense that Socci appears to believe that Benedict is “still pope” – in that he still “signs his name Benedict XVI, he calls himself ‘Pope Emeritus,’ he still uses the papal heraldic insignia and he continues to dress as pope.”

A pope, but not a pope. A seeming contradiction.

Wherever one stands in the debate over the current status of the papacy – and the two living men who have occupied it – these questions are troubling and inescapable. We appear to be living through a totally unique moment in Church history, one that undeniably provokes a search for answers.

Socci’s book may not provide those answers, but it will undoubtedly play a role in the discussion. It is necessary to point out, therefore, that some of his operating assumptions merit critique. Socci sees, for example, a dichotomy between the two papacies that traditionally minded Catholics will question. He promotes an image of Joseph Ratzinger as a man who fought Modernism in the Church, rather than an openly progressive theologian who served as a proponent of its spread – albeit at a slower pace than others and with, perhaps, a few more regrets. For Socci, the idea of Ratzinger as an anti-Modernist creates a tension between Ratzingerian traditionalism and Bergoglian revolution. The motif of Benedict-as-hero and Francis-as-villain undergirds Socci’s theme, and he also posits the theory that rather than Benedict’s silence being a sign of contentment and complicity with the Church under Francis, he is engaging in a form of quiet détente, with all parties knowing that with a word of criticism, he could bring the agenda of “reform” crashing down. In this hypothesis, a certain power is bestowed upon Benedict’s role of prayer and penitence, insofar as his continued presence in Rome might be understood as one of the only impediments to a progressive agenda run amok.

Socci also returns to themes already well debated in these pages, such as the idea that Benedict did not fully resign the papacy – even though he acknowledges that Benedict is not still truly the pope.

It is for these reasons, among others, that 1P5 cannot endorse or agree with all of Socci’s speculation, theories, and conclusions – nor every judgment of the reviewer. At the same time, we know that there is much interest in this book, and we hope that by making a basic summary of its themes accessible to the English-language world, we might facilitate further consideration and respectful discussion around these challenging issues and, most of all, reflective prayer.

We also share Socci’s conviction that the message of Fatima is of the utmost importance for the life of the Church during the present crisis. Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

The Secret of Benedict XVI: Why He Is Still Pope by Antonio Socci (Milan 2018)

Review by Giuseppe Pellegrino

For those who may feel discouraged by the present state of affairs in the Church, Antonio Socci has provided an Advent gift with his newly released Il segreto di Benedetto XVI. Perché è ancora papa (The Secret of Benedict XVI: Why He Is Still Pope) (Milano, 2018). Socci, a veteran Italian journalist who has already delved into the mystery behind the story of the secrets of Fatima with The Fourth Secret of Fatima and the subterfuge surrounding the 2013 conclave with Non è Francesco, again delivers a highly detailed investigation of a topic of extreme interest for the Church in the midst of the present unprecedented crisis, inviting his readers to a more deeply spiritual reflection on “the signs of the times.”

The most obvious “sign,” and the central focus of the book’s investigation, is the fact of the enduring presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the heart of the Vatican and the Church. Since his resignation on February 28, 2013, “Joseph Ratzinger has remained in the ‘enclosure of Peter’ [the Vatican], he still signs his name Benedict XVI, he calls himself ‘Pope Emeritus,’ he still uses the papal heraldic insignia and he continues to dress as pope” (p. 83). In contrast to past popes who resigned, Benedict has not chosen to leave the Vatican or to return to the state of a cardinal or bishop. Rather, he has done something unexpected (above and beyond the extraordinarily unexpected act of resignation), resigning without fully resigning, what Socci calls a “relative” resignation: “It is evident that, although he made a relative resignation of the papacy (but of what sort?), he has intended to remain as pope, although purely in an enigmatic way and unofficial form, which has not been explained (at least not until a certain [future] date)” (p. 82).

From the outset, it will be important to head off all the outcries of “Preposterous!” and “Absurd!” that seem to be greeting Socci’s work from many corners of the Church by clearly specifying what Socci is not saying. He is not saying “Benedict did not really resign”; he is not saying “Benedict was coerced into resigning, therefore it doesn’t count”; he is not saying “Francis is not really the pope.” Rather, he is saying that there is something unprecedented and mysterious going on in the Church in which the Holy Spirit is at work, something nobody yet fully understands, and which calls for silent reflection and prayer as a more effective response to the battle going on in the Church and the world than raised voices and critical judgment. The first one giving the example of such a prayerful response is Benedict XVI himself, who has freely chosen (perhaps directed to do so, Socci wonders, by God himself?) to respond to the crisis by offering himself in prayer and intercession for the Church and for the world.

The Origin of the Drama

In Part One of Il Segreto, “The Mystical, Economic, and Political Origin of the Drama,” Socci meticulously documents the facts of the present situation in the Church, in which he observes that, since 2005, there have de facto been two parties struggling for control: those favoring Ratzinger and those favoring Bergoglio. These two parties may be broadly defined as those favoring a revolution in the Church (the party of Bergoglio) and those who oppose such a revolution by calling for fidelity to the Tradition of the Church (the party of Ratzinger). Far from being limited to an intra-Church struggle, Socci observes that there is a movement of “neo-capitalist globalization that is ideologically anti-Catholic” seeking to dominate the entire world and that it is this anti-Catholic ideological movement that has actively worked to undermine the Church from within by seeking and obtaining the ascendance of Jorge Bergoglio to the papal throne. This “politically correct” ideology, says Socci, was imposed on the world at a new level under “the presidency of Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton,” seeking “the planetary dominance of the United States and of financial globalization,” and one of the greatest obstacles to this worldwide agenda was the pontificate of Benedict XVI (p. 20). Benedict, who had worked for decades as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith resisting the advance of Modernism within the Catholic Church, became as pope “a great sign of contradiction with respect to the mainstream, the media, and the designs of worldly powers who were aiming at a true and proper ‘normalization’ of the Catholic Church, by means of what they called an ‘opening to modernity,’ that is, a Protestantization, which would sweep away the fundamental connotations [of Catholicism]” (p. 22-23). Socci maintains that Benedict was aware of the enormity of this global and ecclesial struggle from the moment of his election, and he sought to help the Christian people become aware of it by placing these extraordinary and surprising words in the midst of his homily at his solemn enthronement as pope on April 24, 2005: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves” (p. 25).

Socci advances the thesis that these wolves were and are far more than hostile elements within the Church, but also include geopolitical elements seeking the political ascendance of Islam and also the marginalization of Russia. Benedict got in the way of both of these agendas because of his willingness to challenge Islam to embrace a dialogue based on reason that would cause it to renounce violence (recall his 2006 Regensburg speech) and also his ecumenical overtures to the Russian Orthodox Church. The “wolves” of globalization sought to stir up a revolution within the Church analogous to that of the “Arab spring” in the Muslim world. Just as the United States government actively sought regime change in other nations to advance its political agenda, so the Obama-Clinton alliance worked in coordination with financier George Soros to seek to “change the priorities of the Catholic Church.” Socci also documents other elements that sought the election of Bergoglio as pope, who upon his election as Pope Francis embraced an agenda fully in accord with the “politically correct” agenda of Obama-United Nations globalization: “catastrophic environmentalism (with pollution and global warming replacing the notions of sin and original sin), ideological immigrationism (replacing the new commandment), the embrace of Islam and pro-Protestant ecumenism, the obscurance of doctrine and attacking the sacraments, the abandonment of non-negotiable principles, and a ‘merciful’ opening to new sexual practices and new forms of ‘marital’ union” (p. 75). It would be difficult to find a more succinct summary and explanation of the agenda of the Francis pontificate than this list given by Socci, complete with geopolitical context.

The Mystery and Paradox of the “Pope Emeritus”

Part Two of Il Segreto is called “That Which Is Not Understood: Benedict Is Pope Forever.” Socci introduces the section with a quotation from the Italian author Gianni Baget Bozzo’s 2001 book L’Anticristo: “The history of the Church is full of states of exception,” along with a quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Ephesians, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI used in his preface to Cardinal Robert Sarah’s 2017 book The Power of Silence: “It is better to remain in silence and be, than to speak and not be.” It is evident that Socci finds these words corresponding, respectively, to Benedict and Francis.

Socci analyzes Benedict’s statements in February 2013 prior to his resignation and notes that Benedict clearly “with full liberty” intended that there would be “a conclave to elect a new Supreme Pontiff,” and yet, at the same time, he declared, “I want to serve the Holy Church of God with all my heart, with a life dedicated to prayer” (p. 90-91). He further specified on February 27, 2013, that his “yes” in accepting his election as pope was and is irrevocable: “The ‘always’ is also a ‘forever’ – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this.” Benedict also declared: “I have taken this step with full awareness of its gravity and even its novelty” (p. 104). What is this novelty? According to the canonist Stefano Violi, whom Socci cites, it is “the limited resignation of the active exercise of the munus” of the Roman pontiff (p. 108). This entirely new action by Benedict – which makes his pontificate, in the controversial words of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, a “pontificate of exception” – was necessitated by the emergence of an entirely new situation in the life of the Church. The present crisis – unprecedented in all of Church history – has called for an unprecedented response. Benedict’s “choice to become ‘pope emeritus’ represents something enormous and contains a ‘secret’ of colossal importance for the Church” (p. 111). There is clearly, in Socci’s analysis, something that Pope Benedict is holding back and not saying, “a true and personal call from God,” “a mystery which he guards” of which at the present time he can say no more (p. 131). Socci proposes that this “secret of Benedict XVI” is “exquisitely spiritual,” rooted in wisdom “according to God” which the present world – and also the present Church – cannot understand.

Socci observes the many ways that Benedict’s present life as pope emeritus is bearing great fruit for the Church during the “Bergoglian epoch.” First and foremost are the rich texts of his papal Magisterium, which remain a guiding light for the Church because they are in union with the unbroken Tradition of the perennial Magisterium. There is also his unceasing prayer for the Church, offered within the “enclosure of Peter.” But Socci further avers that the restrained silence of the pope emeritus has done far more to prevent the Bergoglian Revolution from doing all that it would like to than most people yet realize. Socci likens Benedict to the figure of Christ silent before Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, saying “the same precious silence has thus far averted the most serious doctrinal splits” from taking place within the Church, because as long as Benedict is alive, the Bergoglian revolutionaries know that one word of condemnation from the pope emeritus could delegitimize Francis in the eyes of much of the Church (p. 152). Benedict has chosen not to abandon the flock to the wolves, but rather to resist the wolves with the logic of the Gospel, with “the weakness of God” that is “stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25), aware that this is a historical moment when, as he observed at Fatima in 2010, “the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from her external enemies, but is born from sin within the Church” (p. 166).

The Connection to Fatima

Socci concludes his work with Part Three, entitled “Fatima and the Last Pope.” He draws on his prior extensive study of the message of Fatima, seeing it as a key to understanding the present moment in the Church, and reminding his readers that the message of Fatima emphasized the strong link between the intercession of the Mother of God and the protection of the pope. At the center of the vision of Fatima, there are two persons: “the ‘bishop dressed in white’ and an old pope,” and Socci ponders whether perhaps this vision could refer to the present situation, noting that on May 21, 2017, while visiting Fatima, Pope Francis called himself “the bishop dressed in white.” Socci sees in Benedict a figure similar to the pope in the children’s vision: “half tremulous, with faltering steps, afflicted with pain and sorrow, crossing a large, half-ruined city” (p. 182). Socci undertakes a detailed examination of overlooked words of the children of Fatima, stating that the Blessed Virgin told them that if humanity did not do penance and convert, what would happen was “the end of the world” (p. 195). Sister Lucia declared in an interview in 1957 that “Russia will be the instrument chosen by God to punish the whole world, if we do not first obtain the conversion of that wretched nation” (p. 198). Implicit in Socci’s analysis and reflection is the sense that the outcome of the present crisis is of the utmost importance for the fate not only of the entire Church, but also of the entire world.

Socci’s final observation is that the medieval “Prophecy of Malachy,” which proposed to give a mysterious title to each future pope, ends with Benedict XVI. After this pope, it mysteriously says that there follows “the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church” and the figure of “Peter the Roman.” When asked in 2016 whether this prophecy could mean he is “the last one to represent the figure of the pope as we have known him up until now,” Benedict mysteriously replied, “Tutto può essere [Everything can be].” Further asked if this means he would be seen as the last pope of the old world or the first pope of the new world, Benedict replied, “I would say both. I do not belong anymore to the old world, but the new one in reality has not yet begun” (p. 213). Socci understands these astonishing comments to mean that both the world and the Church are on the cusp of epochal upheavals, inviting his readers to further reflection on the various prophecies in Scripture of the destruction of the Temple and on paragraphs 675-677 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the final trial of the Church.

Socci writes with an engaging and dramatic style, inviting the reader to understand that something far greater than has yet been understood is at work in the life of the Church and in human history. He offers a thoughtful proposal and an invitation to pray and reflect and ponder, not certainty or legal explanations. This book, with its meticulous journalistic analysis and spiritual reflection, offers hope to a discouraged Church and an invitation to prayerfully believe that perhaps more good is at work in a hidden way than the obvious evil that currently is so active within the Church and on the global stage.

Socci offers his work as a gift of love for the Church, broken and battered, to reflect upon and ponder. “It is not power which redeems,” said Pope Benedict in his inaugural address, “but love.” It is this same love that Socci says Benedict is daily offering to the Church by his unprecedented and heroic, albeit widely misunderstood witness: “He is the great sentinel of God of our time, and it is he who has raised a great wall of defense for all of us in the time of the mysterium iniquitatis” (p. 189). May this book inspire many to pray ever more incessantly and fervently for and with our Holy Father emeritus, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

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