Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that it was his free choice to resign the papacy a year ago and he wasn’t pressured to do so.
“There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation,” Benedict said in a letter to the newspaper, the content of which was confirmed in a Vatican Radio story. The former pope told La Stampa he was writing in response to “absurd speculation” about his decision to quit.
Benedict, 86, has mostly stayed out of the public eye since his Feb. 28, 2013 abdication, the first papal retirement in 600 years. The church at the time was coping with a legacy of widespread child sexual abuse and struggling to set up anti-money laundering controls at the Vatican Bank.
Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said last year he was retiring because he no longer had the strength to continue. Pope Francis was elected in March of last year.
Criticism of the church has been mixed with praise since Benedict stepped aside. Francis, 77, has reorganized the Vatican’s financial regulation to prevent inappropriate money transfers, while the effects of the sexual abuse scandals continue to weigh on the church. On Feb. 5, a United Nations committee said the Vatican has allowed alleged predators to strike again because it was more concerned about itself than the victims.
Ratzinger also denied speculation that his choice to keep the name Benedict and continue wearing white, the traditional color of papal clothes, demonstrated any desire to compete with the sitting pope. La Stampa cited speculation among some that Benedict could maintain some authority as a kind of “shadow pope.”
“At the time of my resignation there weren’t any other clothes available,” Benedict told La Stampa. “Furthermore I wear the white outfit in a way that’s clearly distinct from the pope. Even here we’re dealing with speculation without the slightest basis” in fact, he said.