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Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 27, 2023
Pope Benedict XVI is accompanied by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney as he greets World Youth Day pilgrims at a welcoming ceremony at Barangaroo in Sydney, Australia, in this July 17, 2008, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Pope Benedict XVI is accompanied by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney as he greets World Youth Day pilgrims at a welcoming ceremony at Barangaroo in Sydney, Australia, in this July 17, 2008, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ever since Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11, 2013, cardinals and others have speculated on the main reason for his decision to resign. Today, his German biographer, Peter Seewald, confirmed that nine weeks before he died, Benedict, in his last letter to him, revealed that insomnia was the “central motive” for his resignation.

The news first appeared in the German magazine Focus. It said that in the letter on Oct. 28, Benedict mentioned “the insomnia that has accompanied me uninterruptedly since World Youth Day in Cologne.” Mr. Seewald confirmed the news to the German Catholic News Agency (KNA).

World Youth Day took place in Cologne in August 2005. Benedict was elected pope on April 19, 2005.

Pope Benedict’s German biographer, Peter Seewald, confirmed that nine weeks before he died, Benedict revealed that insomnia was the “central motive” for his resignation.

In the letter, Benedict wrote that the “strong remedies” prescribed to him by his personal physician at the time had initially worked and guaranteed his “availability” as pope. However, he said the medicines soon “reached their limits” and were “less and less able to ensure” his continued service as pope.

Finally, the pope recalled that during his trip to Mexico and Cuba in March 2012, there was a serious incident. The morning after the first night of the visit in Mexico, Benedict revealed that he had reached for his handkerchief to find that it was “totally soaked with blood. I must have bumped into something in the bathroom and fallen.” He said a surgeon “thankfully” managed to treat the matter in such a way that the injuries were not visible.

The story of Benedict’s fall in his bedroom in Mexico was known among journalists in Rome sometime after the visit, including the author, but not in this detail.

After this incident, Benedict wrote that his new personal physician had urged a reduction in sleeping pills and insisted that he only be allowed to appear in public on mornings during future trips abroad. According to Benedict, it was clear to him that these medically justified restrictions “could only apply for a short time.”

Benedict’s next major foreign trip was to be to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013. He said he knew after the Mexico-Cuba trip that he would no longer be able to “cope” with this appointment, so he planned his resignation to enable a “new pope” to travel to Rio.

In the letter, Benedict XVI emphasized that he had come to the decision to resign after “sober and thoughtful reflection” because he knew that he was no longer able to exercise the office appropriately.

Mr. Seewald told KNA today that “Benedict XVI did not want to make a fuss during his lifetime about the intimate circumstances of his resignation, which was justified by his exhaustion.”

The German biographer noted that unfortunately, even after his death, speculation continues about possible other reasons for the move. He added that “rumours of blackmail and pressure of some kind exerted on him have not died down,” and it was also suggested that the “Vatileaks” affair was the real reason.

Mr. Seewald, who was known to be very close to Benedict, told KNA that he therefore felt obliged to publish “the decisive detail entrusted to me from the German Pope’s medical history.” He added: “I hope that this will finally put the conspiracy theories and erroneous speculations to rest.”

Benedict’s resignation was for health reasons, Mr. Seewald emphasized, “just as he expressed in his resignation statement.”

According to KNA, Mr. Seewald recalled that in his 2010 interview book Light of the World, Benedict told him “in no uncertain terms that he would make use of the option to resign as soon as his strength no longer permitted him to exercise the office of Peter.” But, he remarked: “Unfortunately, hardly anyone took any notice of this.”

Mr. Seewald is the author of Benedict’s Legacy, which will be published soon in Germany by Hoffmann und Campe, but he said the letter of Oct. 28 from Benedict could not be included “for reasons of time and production.”

Benedict XVI, the eighth German pope, resigned from the papacy on Feb. 28, 2013. His successor, Francis, was elected on March 13, 2013, and flew to Rio for World Youth Day in July of that year. Benedict XVI died at the age of 95 on New Year’s Eve 2022.

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