A tale of two quite different Popes in the Vatican

Two different Popes

While all eyes look to Rome ahead of the canonisation of two quite different Popes next weekend, there are also two quite different Popes in residence in the Vatican, reports The Atlantic. 

These days, he is an autoclaustrato, a self-cloistered contemplative in an order with a membership of one. His name is still Benedict, 15 months after he renounced the papacy. His clothes are still white, the papal vestments minus cape and sash. His home is now the Mater Ecclesiae, a monastery up on the hill behind St Peter’s Basilica, erected by John Paul II as a house of prayer near the Apostolic Palace, the site of the papal apartments.

Pope Francis lives only a few hundred metres down the hill, in the Casa Santa Marta, the guesthouse where the cardinals stay while electing a new pope. He arrived there for the conclave of 2013 as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Jesuit Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires. After his election, he surprised everyone by taking the name of Francis, the saint of radical simplicity—and then by refusing to move into the palace, and staying on at the guesthouse instead. All the world acclaimed the act as if he had pitched a pup tent in St Peter’s Square.

Benedict was as surprised as anybody. In a stroke, the Argentine had outdone him in simplicity. Benedict had retired to the summer palace in Gandolfo while the monastery was being renovated, and all at once his retirement appeared to be a life of luxury. When the renovations were complete, he returned to the Sacred City—by helicopter, the way he had departed—and settled himself at the monastery for good.

And so it has come to pass that, in his 88th year, he is living at the Mater Ecclesiae, served by four consecrated laywomen and his priest-secretary, with a piano and a bunch of books to keep him occupied. Here he watches the Argentine, prays for him, and keeps silence—a hard discipline for a man who spent his public life defining the nature of God and man, truth and falsehood.

It’s odd enough that there are two living Popes. It’s odder still that they live in such proximity. But what’s most odd is that the two Popes are these two Popes, and that the one who spent a third of a century erecting a Catholic edifice of firm doctrine and strict prohibition now must look on at close range as the other cheerfully dismantles it in the service of a more open, flexible Church.

Outwardly, the arrangement works. Francis is acting freely, uninhibited by the fact that Benedict is looking over his shoulder. Benedict is doing what he said he would do: Living a quiet life of prayer after 23 years as John Paul’s consigliere capped by eight difficult and divisive years as Pope. For the record, he has no regrets. But he is now in a cell of his own making, committed not to travel and pledged not to speak out against his successor.

FULL STORY The Pope in the Attic: Benedict in the Time of Francis (The Atlantic)

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