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Opinion: The media in Italy never understood or appreciated Benedict XVI

After Ratzinger was elected pope, progressive journalists in Italy exerted themselves in depicting Pope Benedict as vastly unpopular, fully expecting him to be rejected by the masses that had flocked to see Saint John Paul II. They were wrong.

pope benedict xvi leads his final angelus as pope from the window of his apartment overlooking st. peter's square vatican feb. 24. (cns photo/l'osservatore romano via reuters)
Pope Benedict XVI leads his final Angelus as pope from the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 24, 2013. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (Feb. 24, 2013)

The official count, as of this writing, is 200,000 people having lined up – for hours – to pay their respects to Pope Benedict XVI, in just the first three days of his body laying in state.

Many in the Italian media are professing astonishment, perhaps because they are paying attention for the first time. After Ratzinger was elected pope in April 2005, progressive journalists, who are the majority in Italy, exerted themselves in depicting Pope Benedict as vastly unpopular, fully expecting him to be rejected by the masses that had flocked to see Saint John Paul II, his outgoing, charismatic predecessor.

But this never happened.

“Cardinal Ratzinger never wanted to be Pope,” said Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, Archbishop in Bologna, remarking that Ratzinger had long been looking forward to retiring to Germany and spending his days quietly “reading, playing the piano and stroking the cat.” The relentless scrutiny and continually negative press was certainly not an attraction. And yet the man derided as “God’s Rottweiler” and portrayed as a stern and distant intellectual, drew crowds because he connected with the people. This was evidenced by the large numbers of (free) tickets given out for the Wednesday Angeluses in St. Peter’s Square, and by the traditional summer appearances in Castel Gandolfo, for which Pope Benedict would quite often have to helicopter back to Rome since the village square could not hold the number of people who asked to be there.

Apparently, the man in the street could see through the derogatory propaganda he was subjected to. And countless ordinary Catholics appreciated the grace with which he handled the many serious challenges, which he anticipated when asked for prayers of intercession at his very first Mass as pope:

Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.

Throughout his stormy pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI often turned troubles into triumphs. This included the Convention of the Church in Italy, held at Verona in October 2006, which ended up a success despite the media’s ominous forecast of explosive divisions, and the controversies over the September 12, 2006 speech at Regensburg, which in fact produced meetings and inter-religious dialogue of the highest level.

His trips to North America, Australia, France, and especially the United Kingdom were all preceded by months of serious challenges. Benedict was the second pope (following John Paul II’s trip in 1982)  to visit the land of Henry VIII, and he went ahead despite being preceded by loud calls for his arrest from atheist campaigners. The effect of his stay was summed up by Prime Minister David Cameron with the words: “You came to speak to 6 million Catholics and you have been heard by 60 million.”

Even the clerical sex abuse scandals turned into a boomerang of sorts when it was revealed that it had been none other than Cardinal Ratzinger who had insisted on rigorously cleaning house. Ironically, this fact might never have come to light had not part of the press insisted on pinning the blame on him.

But the fact remains that the attacks endured by Pope Benedict during his pontificate were often crass, ferocious, and unmoored from facts. From the barrage that prevented him from accepting an invitation to speak at Rome’s La Sapienza University, an institution originally founded by a Pope, to the invisible hand that prevented crucial information about Rev. Williamson to reach the pope’s ears before he revoked the excommunication of four Lefebvrian bishops; from the profanation of the tombs of two Belgian cardinals by the police while the entire Belgian Bishops’ Conference was held hostage for ten hours in a row to the roiling events at the Vatican bank; from the “Vatileaks” trial, which showed the world that the Pontiff didn’t even have his own apartment under control, to the mysterious disactivation of the banking automats that paralyzed all activity in the Vatican. One must wonder what matters must have been like in the final years of then very frail St John Paul II.

Not everyone is aware of how hard Pope Benedict fought, despite all this, to straighten things out, successfully weeding out a great deal of the “filth” that he once made reference to publicly, although apparently not enough, events over the past ten years have demonstrated.

The slurs and livid attacks on Benedict continued even after his startling abdication and silent withdrawal to the Monastery in the Vatican Gardens. The number and intensity of these unrelenting attacks from all quarters show how important it was for his opponents in the Church to silence him. Unfortunately for them, now that Josef Ratzinger is with Jesus, his voice may well be louder than ever.

(Editor’s note: This essay stated originally that Benedict XVI was the first pope to visit Great Britain. John Paul II visited in 1982. That statement has been corrected.)

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About Alessandra Nucci 29 Articles
Alessandra Nucci is an Italian author and journalist.


  1. Not just the Italian “progressive” media. The Canadian too. And others. They’re probably too clueless to be ambarrassed.

  2. What the press cannot understand it will try to drag down to its level in order to conceal that fact – that’s what they do, what they’ve always done, and what they will continue to do.

    And the same applies to that of which or those of whom they disapprove. Just one example – the phrase “The Pope’s Rottweiler” is spectacularly ignorant, nevertheless I would imagine that the clown who thought it up is still bragging about it.

  3. There is a factual error in this article. Benedict was not the first pope to visit Britain, as the author writes. John Paul II visited in 1982.

  4. I thank you, Signora Nucci, from the bottom of my heart for your very kind and thoughtful comments about Pope Benedict. He was a truly great man and a doctor of the Church.

  5. Thank you Ms. Nucci, for your faithfulness.

    Benedict XVI, I pray for you…please pray for me, and my family and friends, for our children, our Church, for all.

  6. Something I have been wondering: Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about the ‘wolves’ is something that can and should now be explored. Who are they? What have they been doing and what are they doing now? Should Pope Francis fear them, should there be any left?

  7. I find myself hoping there is a special place in hell for liars in the media. Pope Benedict was hounded to the degree it must have affected his health and thus he retired, an almost unprecedented thing to do. The media also unfairly hounded President Trump. While Trump possessed of many personal faults, this reality ( from which we all suffer) does not give permission for the media to slander him with falsehoods to be believed by the credulous. I am very much a supporter of free speech. But I do believe that those who make PERSONAL physical attacks of people,by slander or false accusations, doxxing in the media or calling for personal harm as many did with the supreme court justices, those people should be tried and jailed.

    • The liberal press no longer wants to report news, they want to make news. Smears and backbiting is the order of the day with these weak writers, thoughtless purveyors of defamation.

      We have to be thankful for CWR, though not perfect (yet) balance and the quest for truth is their raison d’etre. The moderator is a good counterbalance. Sometimes, yours truly gets a bit rambunctious or overdone and the moderator usually has the better measure of the would be post.

      God bless you.

  8. The wolves,hounds,and hyenas of MSM will never stop.They pick their victims bones and caucuses clean Before moving on to their next target.They all originate from the Devils
    Workshop.It is a worldwide infestation.It is only the armor of Christ that keeps them at bay.We must wear it daily.Or we are lost.

  9. “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves”. Who are the wolves? Several point to MSM. Benedict was also aware of past machinations of the St Gallen wolfpack and their ‘man’, today one living member Card Walter Kasper who seems to have lost his ferocity with old age.
    Wolves are clever, perhaps cleverest of predators. Mustn’t forget Little Red Riding Hood and Grandma. Disguise, deception, ability to track prey that exhibit the slightest weakness, evident in their prey’s gait. Perhaps Benedict like John Paul was susceptible to disguise because of innocent trust, although his many years of success in wolf hunts trained him to spot the varmints.
    Trouble is the really successful wolves melt into the background. We only know of them when things go awry, rarely can we identify them. Networks of deviants are acknowledged to exist within the Church, prepared to rupture, misdirect efforts to sanctify that might disrupt their sanctuary even expose them. Benedict must have had a sense of the wolves’ presence, indications of resistance, opposition from high ranking prelates opposed to his orthodox, honest faith, direction of the Church.
    We all know alpha predator is Satan, who Peter says prowls about roaring like a lion looking for someone to devour. If prudently aware of this ultimate predator we’re better disposed to resist the earthly ones.
    Benedict XVI, now free from concern of wolves pray for us who remain among them.

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