Vatican City (AFP) – Seven years after his surprise resignation, Benedict XVI — weakened by age but still intellectually spry — appears unable to remain in the shadow of his Argentinean successor Francis, creating the appearance of “two popes” at odds.
On February 11, 2013, at the age of 85, the German intellectual Joseph Ratzinger announced in Latin to astonished cardinals that he would cease being pope, a situation unheard of for seven centuries.
For five years, the unusual cohabitation in the smallest state in the world between the 265th pope in retirement and the 266th, Francis, went on without a hitch.
But as the “emeritus” Pope Benedict XVI, a learned theologian, continued in his retirement to write on the great themes of the Church, friction has arisen, most recently over the topic of married priests.
On Wednesday, Francis will unveil his stance on priestly marriage after a synod of Amazonian bishops recommended in October that the priesthood be opened to married indigenous people. Some say this exception would solve the problem of a lack of priests in remote areas of the Amazon.
The Vatican insists that Francis’s position was already decided in December, before the publication in January of a book castigating the synod conclusions and defending the celibacy of priests, co-signed by Benedict XVI and the ultra-traditionalist Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Some Vatican observers say Francis was strongly irritated by the publication, which caused shockwaves when excerpts were first published by Le Figaro newspaper.
Through his private secretary, the German archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict tried to backtrack on the publication, explaining that he had never approved a co-authored book project. But the damage had been done, with the former pope weighing in on the importance of priestly celibacy ahead of his successor’s pronouncement on the subject.
Benedict also ruffled feathers in April 2019, when in a long text he blamed paedophilia within the church on the 1960s sexual revolution and an absence of God in modern society.