Benedict XIV, the first Green Pope

RELIGIONS NEWS AGENCY 9REDNA) – The funeral takes place in Rome today (Thursday 5 Jan 2023) of Pope Benedict XVI, who served from 2005 to 2013, when he unexpectedly resigned to live the rest of his life in retirement.

It is expected to be quite different from the funeral of a pope who has died in office, as emotions were expressed 10 years ago when he left the Vatican.

Catholic historian Michael Walsh told a “Religion Media Centre” briefing that this would be the first time in history that a current Pope will have conducted the funeral of one who has resigned.

Fewer members of the public are expected in St Peter’s Square and not all the cardinals are predicted to attend. Papal funerals are also a time for cardinals to confer on the successor, which does not apply this time as Pope Francis is in place, although his health is ailing and those conversations are expected.

Journalist and author Catherine Pepinster pointed out that certain elements of the papal funeral ritual will be absent. The bells of St Peter did not toll when Benedict died last week, as they would have done for a serving pope. His papal “fisherman’s ring” would usually be removed, but this has been given up already. The pallium, a long band worn by popes around the shoulders, is not worn by Benedict XVI lying in state.

But the tradition of burying the body in three coffins will be observed, so that the remains are preserved in case they need to be investigated for sainthood.

Previous popes have been canonised — created saints — although this is not automatic. Professor Tina Beattie told the briefing that rapid canonisation after death has been a disaster, with truths about a pope’s history taking time to be unveiled, with subsequent scandals leaving the concept of sainthood debased.

Assessing his contribution, Professor Beattie said Benedict was “a hugely complex man, full of deeply worrying contradictions” and had a crushing impact on the intellectual life of the church with an authoritarian regime.

Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927 to a devout Catholic family and remained close to his brother Georg, also a priest — they were ordained together — and his sister, Maria, who became his housekeeper in Rome.

He was never a parish priest but after ordination, he moved for 26 years into academia where he gained a reputation as a great theologian. He was an adviser to the Second Vatican Council, which reformed the church, but then dramatically changed into a hardline conservative.

Professor Beattie explained that the change occurred after his classroom was stormed during the 1968 student uprisings: “My feeling is that he was a fearful man and the roots for that, I suspect, can be found in the chaos and horror of Nazism.” His family opposed the Nazis, but he was conscripted into Hitler Youth and later deserted from the army.

She said sexual ethics became the driving motor of Benedict’s papacy: “Vatican II unleashed huge theological diversity, creativity and challenge, feminism, liberation theology. Suddenly the world of ideas was flooding in on this precious, sacred beauty that he understood the Catholic Church to be … I think he saw the threat of chaos. And I don’t think that was entirely misguided.

“He spoke about cultural relativism in a way that was obsessive and often not well informed. But at the same time, when we look at our ‘post-truth’ society disintegrating into every kind of ignorant populism, there was truth in what he saw, and if only he had been less driven by fear, and more driven by the reason that he so celebrated, I think he could have been a very, very important voice.”

But instead, his 24 years as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) at the Vatican were marked by a ferocious pursuit of traditional doctrine, which made him feared and earned him the nickname “God’s Rottweiler”.

Christopher Lamb, Rome correspondent of the international weekly The Tablet, said this was a time when many liberal theologians were investigated, silenced, reprimanded and warned. The manner of the investigations caused pain and were opaque, with people unaware of what they were accused of.

Catherine Pepinster said a climate of fear was created with a limitation on adventurous thinking. His time at the Vatican had greater impact on the Catholic church than his short-lived and controversial papacy, in which he upset many including Muslims, Jews and the ecumenical movement through speeches and appointments.

There was an expectation when he visited the UK in 2010 that there would be loud protests. But large crowds greeted him and he came across as a rather shy, studious, charming man who spoke convincingly to members of parliament about the place of religion in the public square.

Christopher Lamb said there was a tension in Benedict’s character: “The reputation that Ratzinger had as ‘God’s Rottweiler’, was not true for those who met him. That’s not what his character was like. One to one, he was known as a gentlemanly, gentle, kind person who didn’t like confrontation.”

He said Benedict seemed to have an inability to appoint the right people or receive good advice. “He just didn’t seem to be in control, didn’t seem to be exercising the papal office with freedom.”

He explained that Benedict surrounded himself with gatekeepers, a court, where people would speak for him and decisions were leaked. This was a marked difference from Pope Francis, who does not have a coterie and speaks directly to the people.

He said: “Benedict did take important steps on sexual abuse. He was the first person in the Vatican, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s and later, to take the crisis seriously. He demanded the cases be sent to the CDF. He took action against one of the worst abusers in the church. He was the first pope to meet abuse victims.”

His encyclicals on faith, hope and love were an important part of legacy and he was known as the first green Pope who took environmental issues seriously.

But there was a contradiction between what the Pope wrote and taught, and what he did.  “We may never have been given a convincing explanation of why he decided to resign, but I think at least part of it was that he had lost control of the Vatican.”

Looking back at his life, Benedict may be remembered most for being the first Pope in 600 years to resign. But Mr Lamb said this in itself may be his lasting legacy: “I think it has reformed the papacy. To a certain extent it has demystified it, moved it away from a monarchical model to a more of a servant leader model.”


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