Waiting to Know What’s in the Next Pope Interview Book

By Josie Cox
October 8, 2010

Peter Seewald at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 6 Oct 2010/Josie Cox

What’s a journalist supposed to do with a successful author who declares that his next book about Pope Benedict will “go down in history” — but refuses to give any details of what’s in it?

When he says it will “shed new light” on the sexual abuse rocking the Roman Catholic Church — but says none of that will illuminate issues that abuse victims want to know about?

When the most he will say about the revelations in his sure-fire bestseller is that it will reveal “the secret behind the famous episcopal miter”?

That was the situation I faced on Thursday after I interviewed Peter Seewald at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The amiable Munich-based journalist has an inside track to one of the most prominent personalities in the world, Pope Benedict. He has already produced two long interview books with him, back when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official. Seewald got to sit down with the pope for an hour a day for a whole week recently at Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence. The text of their long talk will come out in book form under the title “Licht der Welt” (Light of the World).

Judging from his two earlier books — “Salt of the Earth” (1996) and “God and the World” (2000) — Seewald probably has some interesting insights into the pope’s thinking in the new book. He even gave some tantalizing hints about the contents when I asked about the clerical sex abuse scandals.

But he kept his cards so close to his chest that it was hard to imagine what to expect when the book, which is being written in German, comes out in 10 languages on Nov. 24.

“The pope seemed very understanding of the criticism that he did too little too late about the sex scandals, but the book certainly sheds new light on the whole issue and debate,” Seewald said during a pleasant chat over a cup of coffee. But pressed for specifics, he remarked: “For victims of the sex scandals in the Church, I do not think this book will shed light on many issues, and may be consoling to an extent. Of course, it won’t undo things that have been done and it’s no way of excusing what has happened.”

Photo: Frankfurt Book Fair, 6 Oct 2010/Kai Pfaffenbach

See what I mean?

He then went on to say: “I believe many people will be shocked at the way Benedict XVI is portrayed in the book. Many people may not like it and many people may not believe it.”

Shocked? Hmmm … It’s hard to imagine that Seewald — who was raised a Catholic, turned from the Church to Marxism at 18 but returned to the faith under the influence of the long interview with Ratzinger that became their first book — will do a hatchet job on the pontiff. Now that would shock people — especially journalists who would wonder why he should “burn his source” when things seem to be going so well.

What little he decided to divulge on this point — “He’s not a lone ruler and has not got the hard shell many people think he does. He’s a servant, not necessarily a knight or a ruler” — sounds like what we hear from everyone else who gets to see the pontiff in person. He’s very kind and considerate, at ease even during an interview, Seewald said — not at all the Panzerkardinal or “God’s Rottweiler” that the tabloid press made him out to be when he was elected pope five years ago.

Pssst! – journalists got that message already, quite a while ago. Definitely not a shocker.

So I asked about Seewald’s impressions of the now 83-year-old Ratzinger himself, especially whether he’d changed since the last time he sat down for a Q&A with him a decade ago. “I don’t actually believe he has changed that much,” he said. “He still has so much energy and life. He is so disciplined. His secret recipe for this, he says, is to live each day only with the pressures of that day and not worrying about tomorrow or yesterday.”

OK, that’s interesting. Says a bit about the man himself. But we still don’t know much about what’s in the book.

It’s hard to imagine there won’t be a lot in “Light of the World” to interest readers who want to know more about the liife and thoughts of Joseph Ratzinger. The Frankfurt Book Fair just wasn’t the place to go find out what it will be.

BTW the Munich diocese radio station, Munchner Kirchenradio, didn’t have much luck either. Here’s their telephone interview with Seewald (in German):


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