Did Benedict resignation redefine the Papacy?

Two popes together

Pope Emeritus Benedict's longtime aide, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, has reignited the question of whether there are two popes or one, or whether the papacy itself has been redefined, writes David Gibson in the Religion News Service.

Speaking at a May 20 event at Rome’s Gregorian University for the launch of a book dedicated to Pope Emeritus Benedict’s pontificate – and a day before Benedict’s Fatima statement gained so much attention – Archbishop Gänswein said that the papacy “remains the foundation of the Catholic Church” but he said “the papal ministry is not the same as before.”

Benedict, he explained, “left the papal throne and yet, with the step he took on February 11, 2013, he has not abandoned this [papal] ministry.”

Archbishop Gänswein said quitting in that sense would have been “quite impossible after his irrevocable acceptance of the office in April 2005” when the conclave of cardinals elected Benedict pope.

He went on to say that Benedict intentionally “built a personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, almost a communal ministry.”

Consequently, Archbishop Gänswein said, there are “not two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry – with an active member and a contemplative member,” referring to Francis and Benedict.

The Emeritus Pope “had taken only one step to the side to make room for his successor and a new stage in the history of the papacy.”

It’s an open question as to whether Archbishop Gänswein clarified or confused the concept of what the papacy is today, and in what sense there could be two popes at the same time.

But the Archbishop – who, in addition to looking after Benedict, also plays a largely ceremonial role in Francis’ administration – continued to make his case. In the talk, for example, he sought to distinguish Benedict’s resignation from that of the last pope to quit the office, Celestine V.

Celestine was an elderly hermit, Pietro da Marrone, who was chosen as pope in 1294 by cardinals who had been deadlocked for two years over a successor. Celestine was overwhelmed by the job and the intrigue, and abdicated after five months, reverting to his original name.

He was imprisoned by his successor, Boniface VIII, who feared that some might rally around Celestine as an antipope; Celestine languished in jail and died in 1296.

In his speech, Archbishop Gänswein said Benedict’s resignation was not akin to Celestine’s because unlike Celestine, Benedict did not return to using his baptismal name, Joseph Ratzinger, after he stepped down, nor did he stop wearing the distinctive white papal cassock.

Photo: Pope Francis embraces Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI before opening the Holy Door to mark opening of the Catholic Holy Year, or Jubilee, in St Peter's Basilica on December 8 (Reuters)

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