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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The death of a Pope


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For the first time ever in history a reigning Pope led the burial service of his predecessor. The first pope to resign in over 600 years, Pope Benedict XVI was laid to rest at St. Peter’s Basilica today in a service which had most of the elements of a reigning pope, and a few notable exceptions. Pope Francis offered “our final farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict” and commended him to “God, our merciful and loving Father.”

A soft-spoken intellectual, scholar and theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s papacy was sandwiched between the long glorious and charismatic papacy of John Paul II and his successor Pope Francis. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s theological watchdog, his positions were orthodox and with his passing a second innings of Pope Francis’s papacy begins with less interference from the curia’s orthodox wing who were loyalists to Pope Benedict.

The fault lines between the two segments have already started appearing in the Italian media which echo the words of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, head of the Prefecture of the Pontifical household and possibly the closest aid to the late Pope and it seems all was not well between the two Pope’s. These interviews, published just before Pope Benedict’s funeral, show a wide chasm in Rome between the traditionalists, who were strong supporters of Pope Benedict and the reformists, led by Pope Francis.

With the passing of Pope Benedict, ended the Italo-European leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since 1553 and Pope Francis is the first non-European pope since. The Vatican and its politics is fragmented, much like the spirituality and politics in Europe, and the Church is leading its own transition. With the passing of Pope Benedict XVI, it is expected that the “new and free” papacy of his successor will take root and Pope Francis has already declared his intention of wide reform. However the Pope himself has just celebrated his 85th birthday and has a litany of ailments, even though he has ruled out a resignation for the time being.

While Benedict XVI was known as “Pope Emeritus” he continued to dress and hold various privileges of papal office. Despite his request for a simple funeral, over 50000 people including 130 cardinals, 400 bishops, 3700 priests, heads of state including the queen of belgium, the President of Italy, Germany and several members of European royalty were present. It is now expected that Pope Francis will regulate attempts of his own and his successors will to resign by reducing any privileges of a future “pope emeritus” to avoid confusion and a divided church.

From internal reform to theological conflicts, from relationships with China to cohesion in Europe, the Vatican has been fundamental to politics and power globally with the Pope at the center of both the spiritual and political state. With the passing of Pope Benedict XVI’s successor Pope Francis I now has the opportunity, duty and need to unite the church and give it direction. Rome was foggier than usual today as Pope Benedict XVI was laid to rest. The city, in its own special way, bid farewell to a special Pope, a scholar and humanist above all.

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