Action Alert!

Don't blame Benedict for the 'two-pope' confusion

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 08, 2016

Jeff Mirus rejects the theory-- tentatively suggested in an interview by Archbishop Georg Gänswein-- that Benedict XVI continues to serve in the Petrine office, albeit now in a quiet, contemplative way. There can be only one Pope, Jeff argues. George Weigel emphatically agrees. And Ed Peters chimes in with a quote from Bl. Pius IX about the "grave danger" that could arise if the faithful had any question as to the identity of the true Roman Pontiff.

Agreed. Clarity is vital. There is one Pope: Francis, and one former Pope: Benedict. 

However, while Archbishop Gänswein has caused some mischief by floating his odd theory of a Martha-and-Mary papacy, he may have a partial excuse-- or at least he may have had a good motivation for making an imprudent statement. The archbishop may have been trying to make the point that Pope-emeritus Benedict has not retired in the same sense that most men retire; he has not sloughed off his moral responsibilities. Having set his hand to the plow, the former Pontiff evidently sees that he has dedicated his life entirely to the service of the Church. So in his remaining days, he has undertaken to serve the Church through prayer. Thus he does continue to serve in his own way. But not as Pope; he has-- clearly, freely, and finally-- resigned that office.

A few commentators have suggested that the confusion arising from Archbishop Gänswein's words can actually be attributed to the former Pope, since he chose to remain at the Vatican, wearing white vestments and taking the awkward title of "Pope-emeritus." But remember that Benedict himself did not want that title; he has said that he would have preferred to be known simply as "Father Benedict" but others opposed that suggestion and “I was too weak at that point to enforce it.” 

It would be useful, at this point, to be able to identify those individuals-- influential Vatican officials, presumably-- who persuaded then-Pope Benedict that he should adopt the new title of "Pope emeritus" despite his misgivings. Those people bear responsibility for the continuing confusion. They may turn out to be the same people who prompted him to resign-- because he felt that he lacked the strength to overcome the constant resistance of a recalcitrant and overweening Vatican bureaucracy.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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