Rorate Caeli

The somewhat sad funeral of Benedict XVI: Václav Klaus reflects

Václav Klaus, an atheist and well-respected European thinker, former President of the Czech Republic, reflects on the funeral. (source in Czech)

For me, and certainly for many others of us, the most significant event of this week was the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Thursday. 

Immediately after his death was announced, I described his passing as a great loss. I added that he was 'the last of the great men of the 20th century who fought for the good old values' and that for me he was 'the main symbol of the struggle between the normal world and modern progressivism'. I also said that this "marks the end of a stage in the evolution of human society".

I had the honour of attending his funeral in Rome. The funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, a great pope, a great theologian, a great Church administrator, which took place in St Peter's Square on 5 January 2023, was special. I am not an expert on the ins and outs of funerals of popes, nor on what one should or should not, must or must not, may or may not, do at such a funeral, but I had the feeling during it - in the unexpected chill of January Rome - that all the glory was not about Benedict XVI.

There was not a word said about him except in generalities. There was no portrait or photograph of him anywhere (at least from my VIP seat, but there was nothing in St Peter's Cathedral or in Rome). There was a strange, dare I say not a sacred silence. I don't recall the St. Peter's bells ringing at all. There was - without any connection to what was happening - the timid applause of a handful of pilgrims. There was polite applause from the VIP rostrum of politicians as the coffin was carried past them. I'd say it was a "normal" mass. But I have to say, I certainly didn't go to Rome for that.

Could it be that today's Vatican didn't like him? Or not just the Vatican, but today's Catholic Church, which - unlike Pope Benedict - doesn't want to buck the world today, even though it is so contrary to the Church's millennia of teaching? Wasn't Pope Benedict (and post-Pope Benedict) the bad conscience of today's Church? People write to me that there is no book of condolences in their church, no intercessions anywhere. Was the Church unhappy that Benedict became a symbol of a passing era perhaps - with the exception of the Queen of England - even in the non-church world? And that he strongly protested against its end? Why do we not hear the same warning voice from other Church leaders? I am not called to judge, but it is sad.

I was reminded on this trip that I was in the same place in April 2005, for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, but that funeral was different. He, too, was a symbol of the end of an era, a symbol of the end of communism, to the fall of which the Polish Pope made a significant contribution.

These were among my trips to the funerals of great figures of world history. I was in London for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher and in Washington for the funeral of Ronald Reagan. I was in Jerusalem for the extremely impressive funeral of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a radical Zionist (i.e. not a terrorist Palestinian). I was at the funeral of Saudi King Faisal Saud in Riyadh. This funeral had the unexpected peculiarity for me that the infidels (meaning Islam), although invited to the funeral, were not allowed to attend the funeral, but only to congratulate the new king.

I attended the extremely sad funeral of the Polish President Kaczyński, who was very close to me, in Krakow. This funeral was special, as there were no planes flying over Europe because of the active Icelandic volcano. There were therefore very few guests from the world, and our delegation arrived by train. I attended the funeral of President Trajkovski of Macedonia, whose plane crashed into a mountain near Skopje soon after take-off. I was at the funeral of Hungary's first post-Cold War Prime Minister, József Antall, and sat next to Prime Minister Thatcher (and we could have frozen) for three hours in mid-December in Budapest's Parliament Square. I also attended the funerals of Slovak President Kovacs, Austrian President Klestil and German Presidents Weizsäcker and Rau. I hope I haven't forgotten anyone.

Each of them has made his mark on history, each of them has left his mark. The one left by Pope Benedict XVI should not be forgotten. However, it seems to be, right now, the most endangered one.