VATICAN CITY - Retired Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged that governing the church wasn't his strong suit but says that he doesn't see his papacy as a failure and that he succeeded in breaking up the Vatican's so-called "gay lobby."
In the first book by a retired pope reflecting on his papacy, Benedict also says he was shocked, and initially uncertain, about the election of Pope Francis as his successor. But he said he immediately realized the significance of electing a Latin American pope and has been very happy with Francis' papacy.
Excerpts of "The Last Conversations" were published Thursday in Italian daily Corriere della Sera and German weekly Die Zeit and daily Bild. The book was prepared as a long interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, who has conducted several interviews with Benedict from the time he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
It is being published just weeks after the release of a major biography of Benedict that included a forward written by Francis, suggesting something of a lifetime bookend for the German theologian, who will turn 90 in April.
In the excerpts, Benedict acknowledges the "difficult moments" of his papacy: the sex abuse scandal that reignited in 2010, the scandal over his exoneration of a Holocaust-denying bishop, and finally the leaks of his personal papers by his own butler.
"Practical governance is not a strong point, and this certainly is a weakness," Benedict told Seewald. "But I don't see myself as a failure. For eight years, I did my service" and many people found a new path to their faith, he said.
One governance success was the dissolution of the so-called "gay lobby" in the Vatican, Benedict said.
The existence of this group of gay prelates – who purportedly used blackmail to promote and preserve their interests – has been mythologized in Italian media, particularly after Benedict named a commission of three cardinals to investigate the leaks of his papers in 2012.
Seewald asked if such a clique existed.
"Indeed, a group was pointed out to me. In the meantime, we have dissolved it," Benedict said. "This was mentioned in the report by the commission [of three cardinals], who were able to nail down a small group of four or five people maybe, which we dissolved. I don't know whether something new will form again. In any case, it's not like there are things like this all over the place."
Benedict in 2013 became the first pope in 600 years to retire. He has been living a quiet life of prayer and keeping up his correspondence in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens.
He said he was preparing for his own death by getting ready to encounter God.
“The important thing isn't imagining it, but living with the knowledge that all our lives are headed toward this encounter,” he said.