The coexistence of two popes, Francis and Benedict XVI, was not strictly unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church. One would have to go back to the Middle Ages to find similar but not analogous situations. The resignation of Gregory XII (1415) was aimed at resolving the so-called schism of the West. Perhaps the resignation of Celestine V (1294), whom Dante placed in the antechamber of hell, would be the closest case to that of Benedict XVI, recently deceased, since, although Celestine resigned in 1294, only five months after his election, some of his reasons, beyond health problems, coincide with those of Pope Ratzinger. Chosen as a monk for his exemplary spirituality, Celestino felt controlled and trapped in the power struggles of his time. His resignation is reminiscent of Benedict’s in relation to the difficulty of controlling spurious interests in the curia and the aspiration to a retired life.
Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, after Benedict XVI resigned from the Petrine see, exhausted in his efforts to thoroughly clean up the scourge of pedophilia and overwhelmed by the Vatican finance scandals and the Vatican Leaks. Since then, the pope emeritus resided in the Mater Ecclesiae cloistered monastery, located inside the Vatican citadel. The decision was due to the aforementioned desire to hide from the world, as well as the desire for a purely intellectual life and prayer. But the specific place of residence, inside the Vatican, responded to a political approach, if it can be said that way. It was intended to prevent the residence of the pope emeritus from becoming an alternative place of pilgrimage to the Vatican seat of the acting pope. It was necessary to prevent the coexistence of two popes from crystallizing into a duplicity of sees.
Without Ratzinger’s coat of arms, Pope Francis is helpless
Traditionalist sectors have tried to exploit Benedict (especially Cardinal Robert Sarah, who tried to involve him in a critical essay). But they have not succeeded. Undoubtedly, the presence of Ratzinger has conditioned the freedom of Francisco. But it is also true that Ratzinger’s cloistered life in the Vatican has served to protect the unity of the papacy around the popular, although controversial and controversial, personality of Francis. The pope emeritus has acted as a shield for Pope Francis, says the Vatican expert Massimo Franco, who has just published in the Solferino publishing house Il monastero. Benedict XVI, ninth anniversary of papacy-ombra.
Benedict’s death opens a new stage, predictably characterized by the shamelessness of hostilities against the Pope. In this sense, the statements of Monsignor Georg Gänswein, private secretary of the emeritus, explaining the disappointment caused in Benedict by Francis’ decision to discourage the celebration of the Mass in Latin, are significant. Without the shield of the emeritus, the hostilities of the traditionalist and conservative sectors can multiply. In these environments there are numerous critics for what they consider Benedict’s cold obsequies.
But it is not only these sectors, especially powerful in the North American Episcopal Conference, which are in a position to strain the internal life of the Church. We must not forget that progressive sectors, and especially the German Bishops’ Conference, have been challenging the Holy See for years. As in the secular world, in the Catholic Church too there are clear signs of polarization. Without Ratzinger’s coat of arms, Pope Francis is helpless. More than the risk of formal schism, the Church runs the risk of entering a stage of loss of coherence and homogeneity, of factual reduction of the influence of the papacy and, ultimately, of cantonalization.