Former Pope Benedict XVI: 'I do not feel a failure.'

Pope Benedict XVI finishes his last general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on February 27, 2013.Reuters

Former Pope Benedict XVI has insisted he does not "feel a failure" after his time as pontiff came to an end after jsut eight years.

In a new book, Ultime Conversazioni or "Last Conversations", he speaks frankly about his decision to resign in 2013.

He warns that the "de-Christianisation" of Europe is underway and that Christianity is disappearing from the fabric of society.

According to excerpts carried in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he dispels suggestions that he was forced to resign because of blackmail threats, or that he stepped down because he could no longer cope with the pressure.

His Papacy was marked by the scandal of historic child sex abuse by priests and religious in the Catholic Church, by the "Vatileaks" conviction of his butler for leaking secrets and by the controversial decision to lift the excommunication in 2009 of a bishop, Richard Williamson, who opposed the changes of the Second Vatican Council and who was convicted of Holocaust denial by a German court. In 2012 Williamson was expelled by the traditionalist Society of St Pius X.

Benedict, now pope emeritus, says his resignation "was not a retreat under the pressure of events or an attempt to because of an inability to cope. No one tried to blackmail me. I would not have even allowed that to happen.

"If they had tried to do that, I would not have gone because you do not leave when you are under pressure.

"Nor is it true that I was disappointed."

In fact, he was at peace over the difficulties of his reign, and ready in his mind to "hand over the rudder" to his successor.

He said he had not expected Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio to be elected, and Francis had himself not wanted the job.

He was struck by the way Pope Francis immediately prayed for Benedict when his name was announced, the moment of silence, then "the friendliness with which he greeted the people so that the spark was, so to speak, struck immediately."

No one expected him to be elected, he said.

"I knew him, of course, but I had not thought it would be him. In this sense it was a big surprise."

He did not realise Bergoglio's name was on the final shortlist and was at first "unsure" about the choice.

"But when I saw how he spoke with God on the one hand, and with men on the other, I was really pleased."

He said the election of a Latin American cardinal meant that the Church was now dynamic and open to new developments.

It was not "frozen".

"What is beautiful and encouraging is that just in our time, things happen that no one expected and show that the Church is alive and brimming with new possibilities."

Pope Francis is a man of practical reform, he says, with long experience of being an Archbishop in Argentina.

On reports of a gay lobby at the heart of the Vatican, Benedict insists the Holy See is not teeming with homosexuals.

And he warns that it is especially clear that the de-Christianisation of Europe is progressing and that Christianity is disappearing more and more from the fabric of society.

"Consequently the Church must find a new form of presence, it must change its way of presenting itself. Epochal upheavals are underway."

He admits that practical government is not his strong point and that this is "certainly a weakness" but says he does not see himself as a failure. "For eight years I did my service. There were difficult moments, for example, the scandal of paedophilia, the Williamson case and even the Vatileaks scandal."

But it was also a time when many people renewed their faith.

He is now preparing himself for death, and for his "final test" before God.

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