Pope Benedict resigned early because of the World Cup… kind of

The Rio Report

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Pope emeritus Benedict (Reuters)

When Pope Benedict resigned early it was a great surprise, but now it's been made clear why exactly his decision came when it did.

What many do not perhaps realise is that he brought his resignation forward a year so as not to clash with the World Cup in Brazil.

This has been revealed by his private secretary Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who was asked if Benedict's historic resignation in February 2013 was influenced by the event.

It turns out his decision was partly as a result of a major Roman Catholic festival being moved forward due to the World Cup taking place this year.

Benedict wanted his successor to be able to attend the religious World Youth Day gathering in Rio, which took place from July 23-28 last year after being pushed forward by the World Cup.

"Pope Benedict presented his decision to me exactly as you now said it," Gaenswein responded in an interview with the Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung's weekly magazine.

"My spontaneous reaction was 'no, Holy Father, you can't!," Gaenswein said, recalling the moment when Benedict confided his decision to him in December 2012.

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Pope Francis next Archbishop Georg Gaenswein (Reuters)

Gaenswein said it was not at all easy to keep the planned resignation secret.

"People looked at each other, asked themselves 'Did I understand that correctly'?" Gaenswein recalled of the reactions from cardinals to the shock resignation.

"Some faces looked like stone, others disbelieving, perplexed, shocked."

Benedict became the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign when he said he could no longer carry on because of his declining health.

"To carry on in the same manner as the predecessor ended, or even to copy him, he didn't see as his way," the archbishop said.

Who says the World Cup does not have significant influence on wider events?

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