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No, Pope Benedict didn't hear voices

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 26, 2013

Discerning readers should have realized that we had some reservations about the story that Pope Benedict resigned after a mystical experience in which, according to an anonymous source, he said “God told me to.” The CWN headline on that August 21 story ended with a question mark: a sign that we had questions about the authenticity of the report.

There were several reasons for that skepticism. An anonymous source is someone who does not want to be held accountable for his report; that in itself is reason for caution. Prior to his resignation, Pope Benedict gave his own explanation of his reasoning, and said nothing about mystical messages; it seemed unlikely that he would now give the world a different explanation through an anonymous messenger. In fact, since Benedict has carefully avoided public attention since his resignation took effect, it seemed unlikely that he would want to send any message abroad. So if someone had met with the retired Pontiff, and then leaked this story to the media, he was acting counter to Benedict’s intentions. If he didn’t honor the former Pope’s wishes, why should the world believe him about what the former Pope said? And here we’re assuming that the anonymous source actually had met with Benedict, as he claimed; it’s also possible that the entire story was pure baloney.

Now Archbishop Georg Ganswein has given his backing to the pure-baloney hypothesis. Unlike the source of the original story, the archbishop does speak for the record, does know and respect Benedict’s wishes, does meet regularly with the former Pontiff. Unless the anonymous source of the original report can come forward with some evidence to support his claim, it’s time to put this story to rest.

Before we do, however, allow me one comment on the media coverage of the report. Scores of media outlets featured the words attributed to Benedict—“God told me to”—in dramatic headlines, as if the retired Pontiff had reported a private vision. It’s true that the quoted phrase lends itself to that interpretation, but remember that we are dealing not with a direct quote but with a second-hand account that was then translated into a different language. The full story, as it was first reported by the Zenit news agency, does not suggest that the Pope heard voices. It suggests, rather, that he prayed intently about the prospect of resignation, and in his prayer became convinced that it was God’s will. He prayed, then, and perceived an answer to his prayer. For anyone familiar with prayer, that’s not an uncommon phenomenon.

If the report is completely false, this may be a moot point. Yet I find it telling that to most of the mainstream media, a common experience of prayer is as foreign as an alien spacecraft.

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