Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.
I’m Luke Coppen and I aim to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.
😇 Today’s feast: St. Angela Merici.
📜 Today’s readings: Heb 10:32-39 ▪ Ps 37:3-4, 5-6, 23-24, 39-40 ▪ Mk 4:26-34.
🗞 Starting seven
1: Theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper has said that resistance to Rome’s ruling on Germany’s “synodal council” would “inevitably lead to the brink of schism” (German statement, report, Austen Ivereigh interview).
2: Order of Malta members have elected a Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller, and Receiver of the Common Treasure for the period 2023-2029 at their Extraordinary General Chapter (2022-2023 posts).
3: Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich has reportedly claimed that Archbishop Georg Gänswein “betrayed everyone” with his memoir (Italian report, interview).
4: Sandro Magister says that Pope Francis’ first public comments about the Rupnik scandal “provided elements of the story that were unknown before” (Spanish interview transcript, Doris Reisinger).
5: Fr. Raymond J. de Souza and Stephen P. White respond to Cardinal Robert McElroy’s call for “radical inclusion” (Michael J. O’Loughlin).
6: Massimo Faggioli argues that “the first post-Vatican II era has come to a definitive end” with Benedict XVI’s death.
7: And Pope Francis has written the preface to a new book by Fr. Antonio Spadaro entitled “A Divine Plot: Jesus from a reverse angle,” officially launched yesterday (full Italian preface).
🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino
Papal audiences for Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization; Archbishop Ghaleb Bader, apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic, serving as apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico; Msgr. Alejandro Arellano Cedillo, Dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota; The College of Prelate Auditors of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the inauguration of the judicial year (address).
🧐 Look closer
Mystery solved? Why did Pope Benedict XVI resign? The debate has raged ever since the German pontiff announced the step — in Latin — on Feb. 10, 2013.
In that brief address to ashen-faced cardinals, he said that he had “come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
That did not prevent the spread of hair-raising conspiracy theories, which gained momentum as he lived out his final years as pope emeritus in reasonable health.
According to German media reports, new information about the first papal resignation in almost 600 years has come to light, weeks after his death at the age of 95.
The ‘central motive’ The official website of the Catholic Church in Germany published an article today headlined “Seewald: Benedict XVI resigned as pope due to insomnia.”
It explained that the latest edition of the German news magazine FOCUS quotes a letter from Benedict XVI to his biographer Peter Seewald, dated Oct. 28, 2022, nine weeks before his death.
Benedict reportedly wrote that the “central motive” for his resignation “was the insomnia that had accompanied me uninterruptedly since World Youth Day in Cologne” in 2005.
To counteract the problem, he received strong medication from his personal physician that ensured his “availability” as pope, but only for a time. During a March 2012 trip to Mexico and Cuba, Benedict fell in the bathroom and cut himself. His physician then pushed for a reduction in sleeping pills and for Benedict only to make public appearances in the morning on future foreign trips, according to the reports.
The German pope felt that such measures “could only apply for a short time,” the reports said, and so he sought to resign before World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013.
Benedict XVI also reportedly told Seewald that if he could replay events, he would make the same decision again after “sober and thoughtful reflection.”
What’s next This is not the first time that Benedict XVI has been associated with insomnia. Observers noted that he looked sleep-deprived at his inaugural Mass as pope in 2005, suggesting that he had stayed up all night working on his homily. It was already widely believed that he suffered from the condition during his pontificate.
Today’s reports complement the detailed account of events leading up to Benedict XVI’s resignation in the new memoir of his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. The book says that the commitment to travel to Rio weighed heavily on the German pope, whose strength was visibly diminishing.
Peter Seewald told the German Catholic news agency KNA that he hoped the disclosure of the October letter “will finally put to rest the conspiracy theories and erroneous speculation.”
But the act of resignation was so momentous — and had such profound consequences for the Church — that the debate is guaranteed to continue, regardless of the testimonies of Archbishop Gänswein or even Benedict himself.
What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.
🤔 Friday quiz
How closely have you been following January’s Catholic “Battle of the Books”? (Answers below).
1. Who released a memoir called “Nothing but the Truth” on Jan. 12?
A) Bishop Georg Bätzing; B) Archbishop Georg Gänswein; C) Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
2. Who is the author of the book “What is Christianity,” officially launched on Jan. 20?
A) Pope Francis; B) Benedict XVI; C) Cardinal Péter Erdő.
3. Who published a book-length interview called “Fear as a Gift” on Jan. 25?
A) Cardinal Gerhard Müller; B) Cardinal Robert Sarah; C) Pope Francis.
4. Who is releasing a book-length interview called “In Good Faith” today?
A) Cardinal Gerhard Müller; B) Pope Francis; C) Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer.
5. What language are all the above books first published in?
A) German; B) Spanish; C) Italian.
🔍 Stories to watch
🇺🇸 A Colorado baker will continue his legal battle after he lost an appeal in the “transgender birthday cake” case.
🇻🇦 Metropolitan Epiphanius, primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), met with Cardinal Kurt Koch, the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, at the Vatican on Jan. 25.
🇫🇷 An inquiry has opened into recent attempts to set fire to churches in Paris (French report).
🇩🇪 German Bishop Ludger Schepers has said that today’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism is “an occasion for the Catholic Church to acknowledge its own history of supporting homophobic behavior during National Socialism and also afterward” (German report, press release).
🇯🇵 Japan’s authorities have ordered an investigation into reports of the forced sterilization of disabled people.
🇵🇭 Composers and artists in the Philippines have urged bishops to crack down on pirated digital materials in parishes, seminaries, and schools.
🇳🇬 Bishops of Nigeria’s Lagos Ecclesiastical Province have said that “the ship of our nation is sinking rapidly” (full text).
📅 Coming soon
Jan. 31 Pope Francis starts visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan; Portuguese-speaking bishops’ meeting begins in Nampula, Mozambique.
Feb. 2 Requiem Mass and burial of Cardinal George Pell at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia.
Feb. 3 Cardinal Domenico Calcagno turns 80.
Feb. 5 Europe’s continental synodal assembly begins in Prague; Mass at Argentina’s Basilica of Our Lady of Luján marking 25 years since Cardinal Eduardo Pironio’s death.
Friday quiz answers: 1. B); 2. B); 3. C); 4. A); 5. C. Sources: 1. Pillar Explainer, 2. Pillar Explainer, 3. Press release, 4. Starting Seven.
Have a happy feast of St. Angela Merici.
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