Father Georg Ratzinger, himself a priest, told The Daily Telegraph his younger brother was “very happy” to be living at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat south of Rome that he moved to after stepping down in February, becoming the first pope to resign in 600 years.
Fr. Ratzinger, 88, who travelled from Germany to celebrate Benedict’s 86th birthday on April 16, said his brother “still suffers the problems of the Church, but is really relieved to no longer have the weight of the Church on his shoulders”.
Speaking by telephone from his house in Bavaria, Mr Ratzinger denied the pope emeritus was suffering from major ailments. “He is now very old, he does not have any particular illness, but he is weakening due to his age,” he said.
Pope Benedict cited advancing age when he announced his resignation amid reports that his hearing and sight were failing. It also emerged he had a pacemaker fitted a decade ago.
Peter Seewald, a German journalist said he had never seen Benedict look “so worn down” after a recent meeting.
Fr. Ratzinger first warned of his brother’s advancing age before he was elected pope in 2005 and then unnerved the Vatican with his frank comments about Benedict’s health while he was in office.
The brothers are known to be close, speaking weekly on the telephone, and Fr. Ratzinger said he knew of Benedict’s resignation months in advance. His comment about Benedict continuing to “suffer” the problems of the Church appeared to be a reference to the alleged infighting among the Vatican’s bureaucracy, details of which emerged when Benedict’s butler leaked his employer’s letters.
Since relinquishing the responsibility of overseeing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Benedict has spent his time praying, reading and playing the piano at Castel Gandolfo, which is situated on the rim of a volcanic lake, surrounded by acres of private gardens and Roman ruins.
Last week a controversial, warts-and-all portrait of him was unveiled in Rome. Painted by the German artist Michael Triegel and based on sketches made during Benedict’s general audiences, the portrait shows the German pope with hooded eyes and puffy features.
On loan to the Vatican, it will be permanently hung in the German ambassador’s residence.
The painting received a mixed reception at an embassy event held to mark Benedict’s birthday.
One cardinal reportedly said it made the pope emeritus look like he had “taken the wrong pills”.
Benedict is yet to see the portrait, but said his eyesight was so poor that it was unlikely to offend him.