Cardinal Ratzinger Reveals Details of John Paul I's Election

Providence’s “No” Was a Hard Blow, He Says

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ROME, OCT. 6, 2003 ( The unexpected death of John Paul I opened the doors to an unexpected choice of a non-Italian for the papacy, says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

In an interview with the monthly magazine Thirty Days, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revealed previously unpublished details about the election of Albino Luciani, the short-lived Pope John Paul I.

The cardinal, who knew the future Pope when he was patriarch of Venice, spoke about his personal experience at the 1978 conclave.

“It is true that the German-speaking cardinals met a few times,” Cardinal Ratzinger said. “These meetings were attended by Cardinals Joseph Schröffer, former prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Joseph Höffner, archbishop of Cologne; Franz König, archbishop of Vienna, and Alfred Bengsch, archbishop of Berlin.”

He added: “Paulo Evaristo Arns and Aloisio Lorscheider, Brazilian cardinals of German origin, also met. It was a small group. We didn’t want to decide anything at all. We only wanted to speak. I let myself be guided by Providence, listening to the names and seeing how consensus was finally formed around the patriarch of Venice.”

After John Paul I was elected, “I felt very happy,” Cardinal Ratzinger recalled. “To have as pastor of the universal Church a man of that goodness and luminous faith was a guarantee that everything was going well. He himself was very surprised and felt the weight of his great responsibility. It was obvious that he suffered somewhat because of this. He did not expect to be elected. He was not a man who sought a career.”

“His death was totally unexpected” 33 days later, the cardinal recalled. At the time of his election, John Paul I seemed to enjoy good health.

“Personally, I am totally convinced that he was a saint, because of his great goodness, simplicity, humanity and great courage,” the cardinal said. “He had the courage to say things with great clarity, even if he had to go against current opinions.”

After the death of John Paul I, Cardinal Ratzinger said that he and other cardinals “felt somewhat depressed.”

“The fact that Providence would say ‘no’ to our choice was really a very hard blow,” he said. “However, Luciani’s election was not an error. Those 33 days of pontificate have had a role in the history of the Church.

“It was not only the testimony of his goodness and joyful faith. His unexpected death also opened the doors to an unexpected choice: that of a Pope who was not Italian.”

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