Opinion: Ex-pope Ratzinger shakes up the Vatican, Francis | Opinion | DW | 14.01.2020
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Opinion: Ex-pope Ratzinger shakes up the Vatican, Francis

When he resigned in 2013, Pope Benedict XVI promised to "live hidden from the world" — but he won't stay quiet. Having a pope and a pope emeritus is not working out for the Catholic Church, DW's Christoph Strack writes.

Theologians across the world were stunned when 92-year-old Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI intervened in the Catholic Church's discussion about relaxing its celibacy requirement before Pope Francis had had his own say. Benedict, formerly known as the German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wasn't expressing his opposition in a confidential conversation with his successor, but in a book co-authored with archconservative Cardinal Robert Sarah — a persistent critic of efforts to reform the church — and scheduled for publication in February.

On Tuesday, the former pope attempted to walk back his critique of the potential reform. However, the book's cover appears to tell a story of its own: Ratzinger is named as Benedict XVI and shown in papal garb. Didn't he resign in 2013 and take off his papal whites?

Read more: Things you may not know about Ex-Pope Benedict XVI

"And among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is also the future pope to whom today I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience," Benedict said on February 14, 2013, calling himself "simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth." He said he would live "hidden from the world" in "a life dedicated to prayer."  

Read more: After Cardinal Pell verdict, Catholic Church must reform

Benedict did not use the word "silence." On top of his "life dedicated to prayer," he has become an active lobbyist in his retirement. In the best-case scenario, Benedict is being used by people close to him, including Archbishop Georg Gänswein — a fellow German and his personal secretary during his time as pope. In the worst-case scenario, Ratzinger has turned on his successor.

Deutsche Welle: Strack, Christoph — Portrait (DW/B. Geilert)

DW's Christoph Strack

The former pontiff wore papal white as he spoke to a reporter for a feature broadcast on German television earlier in January. In the film, Gänswein said Ratzinger remained "crystal clear in his head."

The 91-year-old German cardinal Walter Brandmüller is definitely more conservative than Francis, but he emphasizes the singularity of each pope. In 2016, he called for a clearer definition of a resigned pontiff — including the formal renunciation of the papal name, clothes and insignia. But Benedict and his advisers lack this kind of unpretentiousness.

Read more: Ex-Pope Benedict blames hippies for clerical sex abuse

A failed effort

In October, after three weeks of deliberations and with more than a two-thirds majority voting in favor, the Amazon Synod — which maligned by many a critic — appealed to allow older married men in the region to become priests so that the faithful there could celebrate Mass more than just once a year. A pope can decide this issue. Francis must do so in a post-synodal letter.

Read more: Catholic Church 'cover-ups must stop!'

Perhaps Francis will decide before the book is published on February 20. In any case it is clear that having a "former pope" has pushed the church deeper into crisis. There are no real guidelines for a papal resignation, which had been unheard of in modern times.

The Catholic Church is seeing its core structure — the singular elevation of the respective pope — shaken. Benedict and the people feeding him suggestions are responsible. However, it is Pope Francis who must deal with the fallout.

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