Archbishop Georg Ganswein, retired Pope Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, has said a story about the pope resigning after a “mystical experience” was total invention.
“It was invented from alpha to omega,” the archbishop said in an interview on Italy’s Canale 5 TV news. “There is nothing true in the article.”
In a report on August 19, the Italian Zenit, a Catholic news agency, said an anonymous visitor to Pope Benedict “a few weeks ago” had asked him why he resigned. The retired pope was quoted as saying, “God told me to,” before immediately clarifying that it was not any kind of apparition of phenomenon of that kind, but rather ‘a mystical experience’ in which the Lord gave rise in his heart to an ‘absolute desire’ to remain alone with him in prayer.”
When Pope Benedict announced in February that he was stepping down, he said that he had done so after intense prayer and that he wanted to live the remainder of his life praying and studying.
Some Vatican officials and Vatican watchers were surprised by Zenit’s report of Pope Benedict telling an anonymous visitor that his decision was the result of some form of extraordinary “mystical experience” rather than a decision made after long and careful thought and deep prayer. Catholics traditionally would consider that kind of intense prayer a “mystical experience,” although not something extraordinary.
Explaining his decision to resign to cardinals at the time, Benedict had said: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”