But the delicate dance between popes—current and earlier—is far from over, at least not entirely. This is because Francis, in the final act of an outwardly warm but often awkward relationship, will be the one framing the period of remembrance and mourning.
He will preside over the session on Thursday Benedict’s funeral.
This precedent week will be watched to see how Benedict is given in full the passages usually given to a seated pope. Initial indications are that his funeral will be less lavish than the large-scale 2005 ceremony for John Paul II. In this case, the Vatican said only two official delegations would attend, from Italy and Benedict’s native Germany. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the funeral would be “casual”.
Also important is how Francis – for the first time in his papacy, the only Vatican dignitary to wear white – will speak of his predecessor. Even now, in his Saturday and Sunday evening prayers, he has spoken of Benedict’s death in passing, calling him “noble” and “gentle.” Otherwise, Francis proceeded as usual with the Vatican’s New Year’s celebrations. On Saturday, in a wheelchair, he waved to adoring supporters as he was pushed across St Peter’s Square.
Francis biographer Marco Poletti expected the pope this week to engage with “diplomacy” and look for ways to show common ground between himself and Benedict.
“This is a way for him to neutralize the enemies of the papacy,” said Poletti.
Within the church, Politi said, “there is a sense of relief, that this silent contradiction between two personalities and two visions of the church is now over.”
Benedict broke with centuries of tradition in which popes were served to death, and the need to coexist with his predecessor was a defining aspect of Francis’ reign, coinciding with a period of increasing polarization within the faith.
For the traditionalists, Benedict has become a symbol of dissent. Conservative figures in the church would seek masses with him. Far-right politicians were quoting him – or John Paul II – instead of Francis.
The intrigue around their relationship was so intense that it inspired a movie,popes,” which imagined the two verbally sparring, and eventually enjoying each other, in the period before Benedict’s abdication.
In real life, Benedict showed respect to Francis and said there was only one authority figure at the top. In turn, Francis regularly promoted Benedict’s spirit and “intellectual insight”. After ceremonies to recruit new cardinals, Francis would routinely lead them to greet Benedict, who lived in a convent tucked behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
But it sometimes proved treacherous to have a retired pope—particularly one who lived close to Francis and chose to continue wearing white. Benedict did not quite keep his vow to remain “hidden from the world”, causing turmoil when he interfered in church affairs.
In 2019, he wrote the A lengthy letter about sexual assaultlinking some of the church’s problems to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, a diagnosis that runs counter to Francis’ own theories about root causes.
A year later, Benedict offered Defense of clerical celibacy, just as Francis was weighing a move to allow the ordination of married men in the Amazon to make up for an acute shortage of priests. Benedict later said he was there.misunderstandingwith the co-author of the book in which his notes appeared. Some church observers have speculated that the former pope risked being manipulated as he became more vulnerable.
The positions of Benedict and Francis were not far apart; Both supported the Church’s teachings on sexuality, for example. But their philosophical differences were so clear that they seemed to represent two opposite poles. Benedict, as pope, focused on upholding the eternal teachings of the faith, even if it meant a smaller church of fervent believers. By contrast, Francis has traveled to countries with little Catholic presence, emphasized dialogue with Islam, and exploited issues such as climate change and immigration—areas traditionalists say have nothing to do with religion.
While popes have always been compared to their predecessors, it was entirely new to have two men alive with experience as the highest moral and spiritual authority of religion.
Even in St. Peter’s Square on Saturdays, in the hours after Benedict’s death, people talked about him unlike Francis.
Andrea Versace, 23, who is visiting Rome from the northern region of Veneto, described Benedict as “cold and detached,” in contrast to Frances, whom she considers “more down-to-earth.”
Benedict’s death would have ripple effects for Francis. Some church observers hope he will set formal rules guiding any future pope’s retirement — which would require him to live outside the Vatican and revert to his first name. It would have been difficult to establish such rules when Pope Benedict was still alive.
Francis has said, in previous interviews, that he views Benedict’s resignation as a precedent—something he might consider doing too, should his health falter. right Now, Francis suffers from knee pain He struggles to walk. But he keeps a busy schedule.
For his part, Francis said he would be known as titular bishop of Rome if he stepped down. He said he would “definitely not” stay in the Vatican.
In an interview last year with two Mexican journalists, Francis said that the first experience with a seated pope and an ex-pope “went well,” because Benedict was “a holy and prudent man, and he knew how to do it well.”
“But for the future, it is appropriate to explain things better,” said Francis.