World Cup 'forced Benedict to stand down as Pope'
POPE Benedict quit a year earlier than he had wanted to because the 2014 World Cup in Brazil forced the rescheduling of a key Catholic festival normally attended by a pontiff - which he could not travel to for medical reasons.
Long-time papal adviser Monsignor Georg Gaenswein has revealed the reason behind Benedict's surprise announcement in February 2013, when he became the first pontiff in 600 years to quit.
Msgr Gaenswein said that a doctor had told Benedict he could no longer take transatlantic flights due to failing health. That posed a dilemma, because, as Pope, Benedict would have been expected to appear at World Youth Day, a popular Catholic event, which was due to be held in Rio de Janeiro.
At that time, World Youth Day gatherings were being held every three years, which would have meant it was to take place in 2014. "But World Youth Day that should have taken place in 2014 was moved up [to 2013] because of the soccer World Cup games," which Brazil was hosting in 2014. "Otherwise he would have tried to resist until 2014," Msgr Gaenswein said.
Emeritus pontiff Benedict (89) now lives in a Vatican convent. He stepped down from the papacy on February 28, 2013, five months before the Youth Day gathering, which was attended by Pope Francis, who succeeded him as pontiff.
Msgr Gaenswein said that in the early 1990s, Benedict, then in his role as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told Pope John Paul II he could no longer work as the Vatican's watchdog for doctrinal orthodoxy. Ratzinger had suffered a brain haemorrhage, prompting his request to resign the post, Msgr Gaenswein said, but John Paul "categorically refused his resignation".
After Ratzinger suffered an embolism in 1994, vision in his left eye deteriorated, Msgr Gaenswein said.
"From that point on, thus, already years before his election" as pope, in 2005, "he saw very badly with his left eye. But he didn't let it weigh him down. A semi-blind pope. Who would have ever known?" Msgr Gaenswein added.
The aide, who still assists the elderly cleric, expressed sadness that Benedict no longer can take the long walks that were part of his cherished routine.