Criticisms of the handling of the January 5th funeral at the Vatican are missing the real question about the current pontificate.
Pope Francis and the Vatican were going to be under a microscope during the days between Benedict XVI’s passing and his interment. There was never any question of avoiding it. The period, however, turned pretty quickly into a sort of Rorschach test for Catholics all around the world.
The test was not so much apt to determine where on the spectrum of political, social, and liturgical opinion people sit, as it was apt to reveal how they view the papacy – the office – and the Church generally.
People were always going to complain. The folks in the Vatican knew it, especially Pope Francis, the first person to succeed a living former pope in more than six centuries. Popes die in office. At least, they are supposed to die in office. They almost always have dies in office. There will be very little without precedent in the history of a two thousand year-old institution, but the circumstances on this one were weird for everyone – and for no one more so than Pope Francis and his team.
Pope Francis and the Vatican had an impossible task: To give Benedict the rites of the Church in a decorous way, neither overdoing it as though he were the reigning pontiff or underdoing it in a way that would look like “memory holing” the man and his pontificate. The job was to thread the very narrow needle of Benedict’s express wishes for reserve without hurting the sensibilities of the faithful who desired a big send-off. It is possible to thread a narrow needle, but the hand holding the thread and the hand holding the needle were out of sync and both kept moving.
It’s just my personal opinion, but it did seem to me that neither Pope Francis nor the Vatican were awful. They weren’t great shakes, mind, but when Job One is to not make a dog’s breakfast of the business and Job One is also the only job, then you don’t … er … swing for the fences. To use a golfing metaphor, you lay up when you want to stay out of the water and/or away from the sand. Pope Francis and the Vatican hit a lay-up shot.Opinion: Pope Francis had an impossible task with Pope Benedict’s funeral – Catholic World Report