A new book by Paul Badde, entitled Benedict Up Close: The Inside Story of Eight Dramatic Years (EWTN Publishing, 2017), takes a novel approach to a retrospective on the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Badde, a German journalist who was a Rome correspondent for Die Welt for many years, has collected articles and essays on the papacy of Benedict XVI written during that papacy. Rather than an attempt to assess in hindsight, this is a look back on what was said at the time.
This provides an interesting insight into the Benedict XVI years. How did journalists react when Joseph Ratzinger emerged onto the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica as the new pope? What was being said about the now-infamous “Regensburg address” at the time it was given? The many controversies that swirled around the pope may seem static in our memories—but how were they perceived as they were actually happening?
In the style typical of European journalists, these pieces often present behind-the-scenes information without attribution. Italian Vaticanistas are well-known for this, and Badde is in this same camp.
The tone of many of the essays in the book is intimate; one can tell that Badde had his own personal relationship with Joseph Ratzinger. Badde is writing of a man he truly loves, a shepherd he considers his own.
In Badde’s piece from February 11, 2013, the day that Benedict announced to the assembled cardinals and the world that he intended to renounce the Petrine office, Badde’s love for Benedict and his shock at the announcement are palpable.
“[He] is not resigning,” Badde wrote, “but rather freely going ahead into the inner sanctum of the Church’s prayer. It is incomprehensible and unprecedented, but I don’t care. It is just sad. It sticks like a lump in the throat. […] It is enough to make you weep.”
These are the words of a man crushed by the end of a pontificate with which he was intimately tied.
Benedict Up Close is an interesting read for those who are ready to take another look at the papacy of Benedict XVI as it unfolded. Time will tell what long-term effects Joseph Ratzinger will have had on the Church. But if the reader is seeking to experience his pontificate all over again, this is the book.