An unprecedented drama is playing out behind the scenes in the Catholic Church.
There are two Popes in Rome – a situation that has not been seen in six hundred years.
The old Pope resigned in February 2013. In relinquishing the office of “Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter”, he claimed that he lacked the mental and physical energy to carry on, and that he wanted to spend his remaining time in contemplation and the writing of books. Before becoming the Pope, he had been Cardinal Ratzinger, a German priest, famous for his conservative views. He was born in 1927 and ordained as a priest in 1951 in his native Bavaria. After a career as a Professor of Theology, he was appointed as a Cardinal and Archbishop of Munich and Friezing in 1977.
In 1981 he was made “Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” It was a position that conferred on him great influence in setting directions for the faithful. He was very close to the serving Pope – John Paul II.
In 2002, he became the Dean of the College of Cardinals. This was the position he occupied until he was elected Pope in 2005.
Benedict’s successor, on the other hand, was Pope Francis. He became Pope in 2013. He was the first Pope from Argentina.
Since the ascendancy of Pope Francis, the predominant tone of the Church has been dictated by the compassion and social concern of this Pope. His demeanour exudes humility. He resides in a modest guesthouse, instead of the regal papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace. He is frugal and likes to attend to his personal needs without the assistance of a coterie of aides. He believes the Church should be open and welcoming to all, and he is especially keen on the focussing on the needs of the poor. He opposes consumerism and ‘overdevelopment’. He is strongly in support of action on Climate Change.
Pope Francis had been talking more and more about the possibility of allowing married clergy in certain parts of the world. To conservatives, that would open the Pandora’s Box to change everywhere, in tandem with popular opinion
In 2019 a Hollywood movie was made with the title “The Two Popes”. It starred veteran Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce and was expected to win several awards.
The current Pope, before he became Pope, was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In April 2005, after the death of Pope John Paul II, he was called to the Vatican to join the vote for the election of a new Pope. In the voting, he scored the second highest number. The highest votes went to the man who would become Pope, and his alter ego in some ways – Cardinal Ratzinger.
Cardinal Bergoglio returned to Buenos Aires.
Bergoglio was a Jesuit priest who had lived through the cruel and protracted military dictatorship in his country, during which thousands of his countrymen had been abducted, sometimes in broad daylight and killed, with their bodies being dumped in the sea or buried in shallow graves. Many people claimed Bergoglio had only survived by at least passively collaborating with the military butchers. A sense of guilt about his failure to speak out during the “Dirty War” haunts him to this day, it is said.
Seven years after the famous vote in which they placed first and second, the Argentine Cardinal travelled again to Rome to meet his alter ego, Pope Benedict XVI. He was tired, and he longed to retire, he said. The Pope refused his request.
The two men, representing the two extremes of doctrine and sentiment within the Church had a long conversation. Benedict was the arch conservative who had said of the prospects of Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria that the world was not yet ready for a black Pope. He decried “Relativism” and believed in Tradition, such as the return of the Latin Mass. He abhorred the notion that God’s immutable instructions could be modified to conform to man’s changing thought. He had an uncanny sense that the Argentine would be his successor. He informed him.
One year later, Benedict would resign. The Argentine Cardinal would become Pope.
He would immediately, as Benedict had feared, begin to show signs that he would soften the old ways. Was he sounding conciliatory to the LGBTQ lobby, or was he just being nice? Was he being less than tough on Abortion? Was he too friendly towards liberal and left-leaning governments, and subtly hostile to conservative nationalists, such as Trump and Calderon?
Was he pushing too far on climate change?
Was the Church the immutable word of God, or some “woke” multinational organisation bending to the howling of street protesters?
For six years after his retirement, Benedict kept his peace.
A few weeks ago, he could contain himself no longer.
Pope Francis had been talking more and more about the possibility of allowing married clergy in certain parts of the world. To conservatives, that would open the Pandora’s Box to change everywhere, in tandem with “popular opinion”.
Benedict co-authored a book that emphatically affirmed the duty of the Church to hold the line on priestly celibacy. In reality he was directly opposing his successor.
It was unheard of, and within a few days, wise counsel prevailed. Benedict instructed the publishers to remove his name from the book. He was removing his name only, though, not retracting his words.
The real fear of some was – if the ground shifted on priestly celibacy, would it be easier to shift on other issues? Gay marriage. Gay adoption. Civil divorce. The definition of “Family”.
What truly does the future hold for the Word of God, and the way of Man?
While many are cheering Pope Francis as a welcome reformer who is going to bring the people back to the Church, not a few people are watching the man from Buenos Aires with an increasing sense of anxiety.