When Benedict XVI resigned it immediately raised concerns, quickly dismissed, that an ex-pope around could undermine the legitimacy of the new one. Those fears are emerging again, fuelled by the growing discontent of conservative Catholics with Francis.
- David Gibson, Religion News Service.
“Benedict is hanging back for now, but there’s no doubt that he could easily become a figurehead for traditionalists harkening back to the good old days,” Notre Dame New Testament professor Candida Moss and Joel Baden, Old Testament professor at Yale Divinity School, warned in a columnn in The Daily Beast earlier this month.
Hubert Wolf, a Church historian at the University of Münster, echoed those thoughts in comments reported by a leading German newspaper last week, when he said there were worries that “around Francis and Benedict XVI, two competing power centres could come into being in the (Roman) Curia, with pope and anti-pope at the top of each.”
What’s fueling these fears? They seem outlandish, almost medieval. But there are at least four factors at work:
There is another pope still living
The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a Catholic who has become something of a spokesman for conservatives, made that point in a widely circulated column warning that Francis could provoke a schism on the right. His statement seems both obvious and perilous: If there’s “another Pope,” that means there is a potential rival to the throne. But the “two living Popes” meme isn’t actually true, even though it keeps getting repeated.
Conspiracy theories won’t die
Good luck telling that to some Catholics and conspiracy-lovers, who have propounded a number of theories they say undermine Francis’ claims to the papacy.
Among them: Benedict used incorrect Latin in his formal resignation letter, so it is invalid; alternately, they say, the cardinals in the March 2013 conclave that elected Francis violated certain procedures, so his election is null and void.
The speculation was so insistent that on the first anniversary of his resignation last February, an exasperated Benedict publicly called notions that he was still Pope “simply absurd.”