The personal secretary for former Pope Benedict XVI now says a recent news report that the pontiff had a “mystical experience” in which God instructed him to resign is simply nonsense.
“There is nothing true in that story,” Archbishop Georg Gaenswein told the Italian TV channel Canale 5.
He said the original report by the Catholic news agency Zenit was “made up from alpha to omega.”
The Zenit report Aug. 19 claiming Benedict had a “mystical experience,” with God personally instructing him to step down.
“God told me to do it,” the 86-year-old ex-pontiff reportedly told a friend, according to Zenit, breaking his silence for the first time since becoming the first pope to leave office in 600 years.
The report claimed Benedict indicated God had implanted in his heart the “absolute desire” to resign and to devote himself to a life of prayer and reflection, though he admitted he didn’t personally see the Creator of the universe.
“It was not because of any type of apparition or phenomenon of that sort,” he reportedly said, but a months-long “mystical experience” during what he called “a direct rapport with the Lord.”
The conversation with the unnamed confidante was said to have taken place in the Mater Ecclesiae, the former convent inside Vatican walls which has been converted into a retirement home featuring views across Rome to the Apennine mountains.
In the last six months, Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, has received few visitors at his secluded house.
“During these meetings, the ex-pontiff does not comment, does not reveal secrets, does not make statements that could be understood as ‘the words of the other pope,’ but is as reserved as he has always been,” Zenit said.
Vatican sources did not initially splash cold water on news of the conversation. To the contrary, one insider told Britain’s Daily Telegraph, “The report is reliable, without a doubt, although this is not an official Vatican statement or position.”
Another told the Guardian, “The report seems credible. It accurately explains the spiritual process that brought Benedict to resign.”
After witnessing the “charisma” of his successor, Pope Francis, Benedict said he understood how his decision to leave the papacy was the “will of God.”
Benedict’s story in Zenit did differ from the reasons he originally provided when he announced his resignation Feb. 11.
“My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said at the time.
Even a German journalist who had met Benedict reported the pontiff was going deaf, appeared to be blind in one eye and was emaciated and “exhausted-looking.”
With one pope out and another one fresh to the scene, there had been some concern that Benedict would exert undue influence at the Vatican, but the popular approach of Pope Francis and his shakeup of Vatican protocols have relegated Benedict to the sidelines.
The new pope has even made light of the situation, joking in July: “The last time there were two or three popes, they didn’t talk among themselves and they fought over who was the true pope!”
He added that having Benedict living in the Vatican “is like having a grandfather – a wise grandfather – living at home.”
The purported revelation from Benedict is re-energized the buzz about a 900-year-old Catholic prophecy suggesting that the current pope, Francis, will be the last pontiff to hold office until the return of Jesus to Earth.
“Gloria Olivae says he had ‘mystical experience’ during which God told him to resign. So is it God who is keeping the ‘Prophecy of the Popes’ on track?” asks Tom Horn, co-author of the book “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here.”
Horn also appears on the DVD movie “The Last Pope?” which is based on his book.
The original prediction came from Malachy, a Catholic saint who lived in Ireland in the 12th century.
His “Prophecy of the Popes” as it has become to be known forecast in the year 1139 that there would be 112 popes from that time until Jesus made His triumphant return to the planet as King of kings.
The sudden and unexpected resignation of Benedict was the spark igniting the new wildfire of speculation due to one simple reason: his successor, Pope Francis, is the end of the line.
Horn explains on the DVD, "The final line in the Prophecy of the Popes says there will sit Peter the Roman who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations. And when these things are finished, the city on seven hills will be destroyed and the Great and Terrible Judge will judge His people. The end. ...
"The most significant thing of course is we've reached the end of it. And now the world is looking at it and they're wondering, 'Is this going to be the pope who will preside over the Catholic Church as the world enters into the great tribulation period? ...
"Some believe that the Prophecy of the Popes is describing a man who in one way or another is going to help give rise to the antichrist."
Horn observed that people of all faith and even people of no faith are looking at world events today with a sharper focus.
"Some are frightened by what they see happening, others are scrambling to interpret the signs, and I think people have a sense that prophecy is unfolding around the world. People have a sense that something is kind of unhinged right now," he said.
Dr. George Grant of Nashville, Tenn., a historian and former pastor who has written more than 60 books, says regardless of whether there is any validity to the prophecies, sooner or later Pope Francis and the Vatican will have to deal with issue.
"It doesn't matter whether or not it's true. It matters that people think it's true and that they act in light of it. So my guess is that Francis and the Vatican will have to deal with this in some way, and in dealing with it, they in a sense give credence to it. That makes for fascinating politics, remarkable, unpredictable undercurrents, and in an age when quite frankly the whole world is unsteady and in the midst of turmoil, just that additional little bit creates all the more uncertainty. Do I think we need to pay attention to it? Absolutely."
According to the Religion News Service, Gaenswein continues to serve as Benedict's secretary in his retirement, and also works with Pope Francis as prefect of the papal household, overseeing the staff who directly work with the new pontiff.
In the Italian TV interview, Gaenswein described his role as that of a "bridge between the pope emeritus and the reigning pope," and stressed the two men have an "excellent" relationship.