View From Rome
02 June 2016
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Pope Francis is seen as “the Great Reformer” but in fact Pope Benedict XVI is the one certain to go down in history for bringing about a revolution in the exercise of the papacy.
His decision to resign in 2013 has created something unprecedented: a retired Pope. There are now two living successors of St Peter resident in the Vatican and wearing white.
This is, however, about more than just an uncomfortable wardrobe clash: by resigning Benedict XVI unwittingly created a new power balance at the top of the Church, with the former Pope effectively “shadowing” the current one.
This adjustment is creating tension and it seems that the supporters of the “Emeritus Pope” are the ones finding it the most difficult. The problem for them is that Benedict’s resignation has demythologised the papacy. If the Pope can retire like any other bishop then it means that being the Bishop of Rome is less a quasi-mystical role and more an office in the Church like any other, which can be held for a certain period of time and then relinquished.
Last month, Benedict’s closest aide Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who also works for Francis as Prefect of the Papal Household, seemed to resist this demythologisation. The retired Pope, he said, effectively remains in office as part of what he described as an “expanded Petrine ministry”.
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