The two popes and the mystery of the Church – Voice of the Family

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

2023 conveys to future ages an absolutely unprecedented image: the funeral of one pope presided over by another pope. An image that touches upon the very essence of the papacy, which Jesus Christ meant to be one and indivisible.

2023 conveys to future ages an absolutely unprecedented image: the funeral of one pope presided over by another pope. An image that touches upon the very essence of the papacy, which Jesus Christ meant to be one and indivisible.

In an interview given to Bruno Vespa on Good Friday of 2005, when he was still prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stated that “the pontificate is a unique responsibility given by the Lord, and one that the Lord alone can take back”. Eight years later, however, on 11 February 2013, came the announcement of his abdication — like “a bolt from the blue”, to use the words of the then dean of the college of cardinals, Angelo Sodano. There are those who are convinced that the cause of Benedict XVI’s resignation of the pontificate lies in various kinds of pressure thought to have been applied to him. But in an interview with Peter Seewald, published as his Last Testament, Benedict reiterated: “That’s all complete nonsense… no one has tried to blackmail me. If that had been attempted I would not have gone.” The decision, he always repeated, was taken in full and conscious freedom.

Does the origin of the abdication lie in the psychophysical exhaustion of the pontiff? But Benedict’s post-pontificate lasted ten years — longer than his pontificate — and, with his 95 years, he was the Church’s longest-lived pope. Moreover, Benedict retained an impressive lucidity up to the moment of his death, as is clear from one of his last documents: the letter of 6 February 2022 in which he writes that he is preparing to “pass confidently through the dark door of death”, issuing an appeal to “remain firm in the faith”, without letting oneself be confused by false science and false theology.

The resignation of the pontificate therefore remains inexplicable, but fraught with consequences. In the ten years following the election of Francis, Benedict used the title of “pope emeritus” and continued to wear white and to give the apostolic blessing, suggesting the idea of a pontifical diarchy. Then the retired pope dies and his successor presides over his funeral, but he too is ill, in a wheelchair, and his pontificate is drawing to an end. A light of dusk seems to be falling on the Church. How can one deny an objective weakening of the institution of the papacy, in the perception of the ordinary faithful?

Today, everything Benedict XVI did in the eight years of his reign is overlaid with the memory of what he did not do in the past decade, dominated by the image of two popes, presented by the mass media as being in almost symbiotic harmony. And yet, before, there was the pope of the hermeneutic of continuity and of non-negotiable principles, the restorer of the liturgy, the critic of the dictatorship of relativism and the defender of the West; after, the pope who cannot bear traditionalists and who esteems progressive theologians, the pope of openness to homosexuals and the divorced and remarried, the pope of the environment, immigration and the Third World. If these two different ways of presenting the Gospel to modern man have provoked doctrinal and even canonical controversies among the faithful, this has also been due to a cohabitation in the Vatican, which seemed to propose the choice between two banners, forgetting that, in the past, the history of the Church has seen divergences — even sharp ones — between pontificates, as happened with those of Leo XIII and Saint Pius X or with those of Pius XII and John XXIII. Popes are men, and their divergences should not be emphasised to the point of imagining that today there are two churches in opposition, that of Benedict and that of Francis, because, as there is only one Vicar of Christ, so also is there only one Church: Catholic, Apostolic and Roman.

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The two popes and the mystery of the Church – Voice of the Family

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