Cardinal Angelo Scola speaks: 'I'll tell you my truth about Joseph Ratzinger'

'When he understood that he was about to be elected, it seemed to him that a guillotine descended on his neck', says the prince of the Church. Who was the real director of the election of the recently deceased pontiff. And his resignation? “The real reason is all in one sentence”

  angel-scola-today-5 Cardinal Angelo Scola, 81, now lives in Oggiono, in the province of Lecco Photo Video

You know «we are all poor people», says Angelo Scola, born in Malgrate in the province of Lecco 81 years ago, son of a truck driver and a housewife, cardinal of the Holy Roman Church with the title of Santi XII Apostoli, metropolitan archbishop of Milan since 2011 to 2017 and before that Patriarch of Venice from 2002 to 2011, doctor of philosophy and theology with degrees in Milan and Freiburg. He is a prince of the Church. But 'I'm a poor man, we are all poor people', he tells us at the time of the final goodbyes. He is a much simpler person than one might think. Simple, which does not mean simpleton: it means that Christian realism which leads you to understand that, whoever you are, you are a poor fellow who needs God's mercy. Even if you are an archbishop and merit of the largest diocese in the world – photo | video

'The choice of Pope Francis that affected Benedict XVI' 'The choice of Pope Francis that affected Benedict XVI'

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THE POPE LEAST UNDERSTANDED – Even if you are a Pope, as was Benedict XVI, perhaps the most misunderstood and misunderstood pontiff (especially by the media). Angelo Scola knew him well. And very few like him can tell us who the man Joseph Ratzinger was, first of all.

Your Eminence, can you tell us how you met him? «It was the spring of 1971. With Sante Bagnoli founder of Jaca Book, Eugenio Corecco bishop of Lugano and Giuseppe Ruggieri theologian from Catania, we had thought of participating in the foundation of a magazine which would later be Communio. We asked the advice of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the great Swiss theologian, who told us to turn to Joseph Ratzinger».

Was he already famous? «Of course, especially as a scholar. We visited him at his home in Regensburg, where he lived with his sister. We talked about that project all afternoon. Towards evening he invited us to dinner in a nice restaurant on the Danube. Sitting at the table we threw ourselves on the menu, as Italians always do, to choose the specialities. The waiter took our orders and then turned to Ratzinger. “The usual,” he replied. And we thought: who knows what it will be, the usual, why didn't he recommend it to us? We found out shortly after. The 'usual' was toast. “Otherwise I won't be able to study afterwards”, he explained to us ».

When he was elected Pope, the Manifesto headlined: 'The German Shepherd'. “The German Shepherd is an invention of the German press. Ratzinger has always had many oppositions in Germany, because his theology was very innovative and yet anchored in tradition. But those who knew him know that he was anything but stiff. He was a meek, kind, very delicate, very welcoming man ».

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But wasn't he a reactionary, as many think? 'Absolutely not. She had two great criteria of merit for elaborating his thought. On the one hand, the Bible, tradition. And on the other, history, the changing society, to which he was very attentive ».

Which Pope was it? 'He left the fundamental keys for dealing with this phase of Christianity'.

And what stage is it? “It is the phase in which secularization is over, but de-Christianization is not. Christianity is replaced by what Augusto Del Noce called gay nihilism. Today the spring is the pursuit of pleasure: a reduced condition of happiness. The centrality of Christ has been lost, the possibility of a personal encounter with him. Ratzinger said very clearly that Europe is losing the Christian faith'.

Do we no longer believe in God made man? «A French sociologist wrote that in about ten years, when the registry office asks “what religion are you?”, the majority will answer: “none”».

It looks like a gloomy picture. Yet Vittorio Messori, who wrote a book with Ratzinger, told me that he asked him: but then, what will become of the Church? And Ratzinger smiled and spreading his arms said: Christ saves the Church. «It is the answer of a man of faith. Throughout his life, before doing anything - to study, to be a bishop, to be Pope - Ratzinger took a couple of hours to pray, as Pope Francis also does'.

Can it be said that you, Cardinal Scola, were one of the great electors of Benedict XVI? 'Yes, you can say.'

And how did it go? «Well, that could not be said. But I can add that on that Conclave we still read completely wrong numbers on the votes. Ratzinger immediately established himself as the only possible candidate'.

Were you happy to be elected? 'No. He said that when he began to realize that 'a guillotine was falling on his neck' he was seized with fear. And after the election he asked all of us cardinals to stay another night in the Conclave so that we could all be together again for a mass ».

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Where were you when Ratzinger resigned? What did he think he? 'In Milan. I was entering the church dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes because it was February 11, the anniversary of the apparition. At the door someone said to me: Benedict XVI has renounced. I didn't expect it. I celebrated Mass but I was distracted the whole time».

Why do you think he resigned? “I think it's time to finally be clear about this. It was a series of complex causes, summed up in his phrase 'I no longer have the strength'. His humility prevailed at that moment.'

What cause? Vatileaks, pedophilia? “Even those. He had been in the front row to fight pedophilia with truth and justice'.

What do you think of the controversy immediately after his death? Those statements by Father Georg… «Father Georg has been a faithful and commendable servant. I believe, I assume that the publisher had already thought about the launch of the book with his memoirs. And so sentences came out that were mistaken for an interview. But I read that Father Georg had asked the publisher to postpone the issue precisely to avoid misunderstandings'.

Do you remember the last time you saw Ratzinger the Pope? 'Certain. It was a few days before his departure for Castel Gandolfo. He was very serene. His choice had been very meditated and much prayed for, as that generation used to do. The next one, mine, he's already more low profile ».

Do you think you will see your friend Joseph Ratzinger again? 'Yes, my heart tells me with my mind, by virtue of that faith that I have had since I was a child, and that was passed on to me by my parents and my parish'.

What is the afterlife? «The most wrong thing is to think of it as another life. It is life itself that has reached its fullness.