The Untold Truth Of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

One might say that there are currently two living popes, but only one leads as we know it. One, Pope Francis, is active, and the other is retired, and is better known as a Pope Emeritus.

On February 11, 2013, the then-Pope Benedict XVI made an announcement that stunned the Vatican and Catholics around the world. For the first time in modern history, the head of the Catholic Church said that he was making the decision to retire from the papacy. The pope would officially leave his post two weeks later, on February 29, resigning from his papal duties. His departure happened just a month ahead of that year's Holy Week, the most important week of the Catholic calendar.

Pope Benedict XVI, previously Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was elected in April of 2005 as the 265th pontiff. He hailed from Germany (via The Guardian). His election followed the death of Pope John Paul II, who led as pope for 26 years. But Pope Benedict would not die in office, as did his predecessor. After just eight years he announced his retirement.

Despite Pope Emeritus title, Benedict XVI says there's only one Pope

The title of Pope Emeritus is an honorary one, and it acknowledges him and his previously held role. However, Pope Benedict XVI probably isn't the biggest fan of that, as he puts it. When he made the choice to retire, he pointed to his health and age as two factors that were affecting his abilities to lead. Of course, he would still be around, but not with the intention to carry on as pope of any sort. But in an interview with an Italian publication earlier this month, he stated publicly that only one person has the title. "There is only one Pope," he said (via The Guardian).

His remarks come after his show of disapproval of Catholics he calls "fanatics." He says since resigning there's been a vocal crowd that continues to regard him as pope, and this same group doesn't respect Pope Francis as the currently elected pontiff. But he maintains that when he stepped down he was fully aware of what he was doing. "Some of my more fanatical friends are still upset, they have not accepted my choice. They don't want to believe that it was a conscious choice. My conscience is clear," said the former pope.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rarely reappears

He stayed far away from the spotlight when Pope Francis took over leadership in 2013, practically living away from sight. In the years after retirement the ex-pope would make rare public appearances from time to time. Nearly a full year would pass after his resignation before he was sighted again, at a ceremony for cardinals in 2014 (posted on YouTube).

These few appearances would happen once a year. He reappeared again in 2016 (via Wall Street Journal) and in 2018 (via Metro UK), and naturally it was at Masses celebrated by Pope Francis.

Despite living on Vatican grounds he's remained mostly behind the scenes, which is the way he wanted it. After his resignation announcement in 2013, he notably remarked that he planned to stay "hidden from the world," reported Reuters. He kept that promise up until a few years ago when he decided to openly warn Pope Francis' about his position regarding the Catholic Church's abuse scandals, reported The New York Times. He received some criticism for breaking his promise of staying behind the scenes, but traditionalists praised the letter and exalted him in ways he would end up dismissing to defend Pope Francis.

Created the controversy of the 'two popes'

Not only did resigning send some shock waves throughout Vatican City and Catholics globally, but the Pope Emeritus evidently would be at the center of some other controversy later on.

The now well-known letter he wrote about sex abuse caused some division among Catholics. The Catholics with more conservative views applauded the former pope for coming out and speaking on the subject. To others, it seemed as if he was undermining his successor. Since coming into the role, Pope Francis has been widely celebrated as a progressive. His predecessor was not, however. And it was Pope Francis' very differing views that apparently led to the former pope to break his silence with the 6,000-word letter. 

The situation left many Catholics perplexed as two "popes" had views that contradicted each other. It shone a clear light that the existence of both a pope and pope emeritus was a concept the Church never had to deal with before. The result of the controversy subsequently led to gossip and hostility that the Pope Emeritus would have to defend himself and Pope Francis against, per National Catholic Reporter.

One of the few German Popes

While he was the first German to be elected Pope in modern times, Pope Benedict XVI was not the first ever. His election in 2005 made him the eighth German (via BBC News) to be chosen, but it took nearly 10 centuries for that to happen. The overwhelmingly vast majority of popes have been of Italian descent. Italian pontiffs have made up more than half of all popes in history (via New Advent). One might even include the current pope, as he is of Italian descent even though he is Argentine. But because there was once the existence of the multi-territory Holy Roman Empire, as it stands, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is technically one of three Popes that hail from the same land that makes up modern-day Germany, the other two being Pope Victor II and Pope Clement II.

Prior to Benedict XVI, the last German-born Pope was actually Pope Victor II. He too had a short papacy, which lasted for two years, from 1055 to 1057. But it was his death and not a resignation that ended his papacy, per Britannica.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks multiple languages

Being multilingual — knowing how to at least read and speak another language — is a skill that is a significant advantage for many jobs, especially jobs that are lived out on the global stage. The job of the pope is no different. But being multilingual isn't just an asset; it's nearly mandatory. Most popes are polyglots who can speak and write in various European languages. Popes must also speak Latin, the primary papal language.

The Pope Emeritus is noted for speaking and being fluent in his native German, as well as English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. Apparently he knows some Croatian, Polish, and Slovenian too, says Catholic News Agency. He also famously delivered the announcement of his resignation in Latin (via BBC News), and his first tweet was written in Latin. Apparently, he loves the language, which explains why throughout his papacy he was quite fond of using it (via The Los Angeles Times).

Deadline reports that Discovery+ will stream a documentary on Pope Francis, titled Francesco, beginning March 28.