VATICAN CITY (RNS) The personal secretary of former Pope Benedict XVI denied that the pontiff resigned as a consequence of a “mystical experience” in which God “told me” to step back from the papacy.

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24.

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24.

The Catholic news agency Zenit published a story on Aug. 19 reportedly based on the account of one of the former pope’s few visitors; Benedict is living in a refurbished monastery on the Vatican grounds.

According to the report, Benedict said he had decided to resign after what he described as a “mystical experience,” stressing that this shouldn’t be confused with a vision.

That experience sparked an “absolute desire” to dedicate his life exclusively to prayer, in a solitary relationship with God, Benedict reportedly said.

Zenit’s account received wide attention but was met with skepticism by people familiar with the former pope.

Speaking on Sunday (Aug. 25) to the Italian TV channel Canale 5, Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, said the Zenit report was “made up from alpha to omega.”

“There is nothing true in that story,” he added.

While continuing to serve as Benedict’s secretary in his retirement, Gaenswein also works with Pope Francis as Prefect of the Papal Household, charged with overseeing the staff who directly work with the new pope.

In the Canale 5 interview, Gaenswein described his role as that of a “bridge between the pope emeritus and the reigning pope.” He also assured that the two men have an “excellent” relationship.



  1. Marie DuMabeiller

    Taken on faith or not, I just couldn’t swallow that story or believe God would give this most brilliant of popes such nutty advice, which in turn spun such irresponsible journalism. So my gratitude to “Archbishop Bel Giorgio” for courageously dispelling this idiotic fable (which made me wonder if Benedict himself had gone off the deep end after Vatileaks gave him so much grief…)!

  2. How would this author or anyone else know? I’m not Catholic, but I certainly believe that God gives us input from time to time as to what He wants done. If Pope Bennedict says that God prompted him to step down, I believe him. If God DIDN’T prompt Pope Bennedict to step down, and he is deliberately lying, then he’s going to find himself in hot water with God. I don’t believe that any devout Christian would lie about what God said.

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