Francis is shaping the role of Pope Emeritus

There is a 14 March ZDF video interview in German with Archbp. Georg Gänswein, the Prefect of the Pontifical Household and, simultaneously, particular secretary of Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus.

The interview reinforces my view that Pope Francis wants Benedict XVI to be more public.

A short time ago, Francis spoke in an interview about his view of the former Pope’s role.  HERE In that response, Francis clearly thought that Benedict should be off his self-imposed leash.

No one else but Francis could make this decision and no one else could make it happen.

Benedict appeared, at the invitation of Pope Francis, at the recently consistory.  That was also a dress rehearsal for Benedict’s presence at the canonization of John Paul.

Now, Benedict’s book about John Paul is coming out, even though before we were told that the Holy Father’s new writings would be published after his death.  (Aside: A good way to pay off the Vatican’s debts!)

Francis is, I think, actively trying to make Benedict more visible, to form or shape an “office” or at least role in the Church for a Pope Emeritus.

Is that because Pope Francis plans to be a Pope Emeritus one day?  I think so, but let that pass.

Francis is not afraid of Benedict in any way.  He is not concerned about Benedict being though of as “co-Pope”.  The two men genuinely seem to get along well.  Moreover, Francis certainly understands now that all the dreck he is dealing with in the Curia was not Benedict’s fault.

In the midst of all this is the person of Archbp. Gänswein is Prefect of Apostolic for one Pope, private secretary to another. He is carrying out his duties with grace and discretion.  He has carried letters, ideas, clarifications between them.  If there has been no friction between the great figures he serves, that is in large part due to Archbp. Georg Gänswein.  They talk to each other.

Now I read at Katholisches Info that Francis gave to Benedict XVI the interview that was published in September in Civiltà Cattolica. He asked Benedict to do some analysis of the interview. Benedict dictated four pages of comments for Pope Francis. We don’t know what Benedict offered. Gänswein said it was “interesting”.

Was this was an indiscreetion on Archbp. Gänswein’s part?  No.  After all, nothing terribly monumental was revealed: Francis asked Benedict for his thoughts and Benedict gave them and they were interesting. That said, was this a sort of planned “leak” of information about how the two men relate to each other?  Yes, I think so.  You don’t talk to ZDF openly about that unless you have a good reason to do so, unless you know the parties involved are okay with it.

Georg Gänswein is not like some many highly-placed, media-addled prelates, who dash to the microphones and then absolutely go to the zoo when broadsided with questions they didn’t anticipate.

Finally, all in all, Francis looks pretty good in this.

We are still reading Francis through Benedict, and I am more sure now that Francis wants Benedict to be part of the lens with which we read him.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. anilwang says:

    We are still reading Francis through Benedict, and I am more sure now that Francis wants Benedict to be part of the lens with which we read him.

    I personally disagree. Pope Francis is his own person, and I doubt he wants to be read through the Benedict lens any more than he wants to be read through the (apostate) Cardinal Kasper lens.

    I read Pope Francis as being a practical man, like Saint Thomas More.

    He sees mass apostasy even at the highest levels and has to make a choice, fight it or reconcile with it. To fight it means potentially excommunicating half the Catholic world and spending a great deal of resources on an inquisition to bring the Church back to a more ideal state, while the secular world continues its attacks on the Church. To reconcile with it is a great deal more messy and may lead to mass confusion, but it will lower the guard of the secular world and provide for time to convert the those who can be converted and reconcile sides that might that might be opposed because of personal style rather than doctrine. The later approach is more practical. I personally favour Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s less practical more and clear cut approach even if it results in a smaller and more faithful Church that can convert the world with vigor, but we have what we have.

    Similarly, Pope Francis recognizes that there are a lot of wolves in the Vatican, wolves that might have driven Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI out of the office and appeared to have run rampant during the end of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate when he was too weak to fight them. People live much longer these days compared to the past (not necessarily with all their faculties in place), and handing over the papacy to the wolves for an extended period of time won’t appeal to all Popes. So it’s likely that popes will retire more frequently in the future.

    Given this, a practical person would make it official and provide a way for Popes to retire when they feel the wolves will overtake them and provide a way for future Popes to utilize the experience of past Popes to defend themselves from the wolves.

  2. McCall1981 says:

    This is very good to read, thank you Father. Although I don’t think Benedict and Francis would agree on what the “dreck” in the Curia is. Benedict was no fan of Card Kasper, and Francis can’t seem to stop fawning all over him.

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Given all the rumor junk going around about the Pope Emeritus being “forced out” or “threatened,” Pope Francis is smart to ask the Pope Emeritus to appear often in public. It’s sad to have to interrupt the Pope Emeritus’ retirement retreat like this, but if people are going to pass crazy rumors you have to do something.

    However, if you happen to have a veteran of your job who’s also one of the world’s great thinkers living in your backyard, you’d have to be stupid not to consult with him. Even if he’s mostly blind and frail in health, the brain is still operating on all cylinders. And how do you get a more disinterested counselor?

  4. Lepidus says:

    Here’s another interesting thought. Some people have suggested that Pope Francis might wish to resign when he turns 80 (or somewhere around that). To the best of our knowledge, Benedict is still healthy. So, it’s theoretically possible to have two Popes-Emeriti (or something like that)? That could be real interesting.

  5. Bosco says:

    “Francis is shaping the role of Pope Emeritus.” I trust I will be forgiven if I derive no consolation from that assertion. With all due respect, I think the Holy Father is a bit of a shape-shifter in many respects.
    This is a dangerous roll of the dice here if true. How’s that re-shaped shadow Curia coming along?

  6. While I’m not reading Francis through Benedict (as anilwang pointed out), I do tend to think that Francis will retire…and because Francis is a person that seeks the spotlight more than Benedict XVI ever did, the public outings are perhaps an attempt to allow things to be smooth for the personality of Francis (extroverted, needs to be with the people) if and when he does make the decision to abdicate.

  7. jlong says:

    I googled it but was unable to find Benedict’s new book on JPII. When is it coming out?

    Do you think the Pope will get involved in theological speculation and exegesis again? Will he offer an opinion on how his formal speculation of marriage and divorce is being used by some in the Church to argue for changes to marriage?

  8. KevinSymonds says:

    I had no idea Benedict was writing a book on JPII. When did this hit the news?

  9. kpoterack says:

    Personally, for what it is worth, I think that the whole Card. Kaspar business was part of Papa Bergoglio’s “lio,” – his “mess.” Remember he said something to the effect of, “I would rather have a Church that makes a lot of mistakes in trying to solve pastoral problems, rather than a ‘perfect Church.'” [Or something along those lines.] I think that this is fraught with danger – and it certainly wouldn’t be my approach – but I think this fits in with what I have read of (and from) the man.

    Well, l’affair Kaspar certainly did get quite a response and a series of counter-proposals from the cardinals from what I have read, no? It did light a fire under people. I think that good bishops will continue to respond. It also wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he were to solicit the opinion of Papa Emeritus Ratzinger. He, of course, will offer a polite, scholarly, solidly orthodox (and unassailable) response.

    Personally, I just don’t see the Greek option as in any serious way arguable, but I speculate that Francis wants his bishops and advisors to make that clear to him and come up with alternative proposals.

    According to Card. Nichols – at least at the consistory – the trend seemed to be going in the direction of increased grounds for nullity due to failure to intend indissolubility as a basic characteristic of marriage – at least in the modern West.

    And then, when Pope Francis resigns in a few years, my speculation is that – after a long sigh of relief – the cardinals will elect a pope who is much easier on their (and our) blood pressure . . .

  10. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z,
    Thank you for all this intersting material!

    Who knows, a future college of Popes Emeritus? (But no ‘co-popes’ like Roman consuls or the Augusti and Caesari of the late-third, early-fourth centuries!)

    Heartening in any case that Pope Emeritus Benedict has decided not only to go on writing but to publish, again!

  11. TWF says:

    anilwang: I think it is a bit much for a lay person to declare a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church an “apostate” regardless of what one might think of some of his theological opinions.

  12. mr_anthony says:

    My understanding is that what is being published is a book on JPII that contains a recollection from Benedict. I didn’t think the full book was authored by the Pope Emeritus.

    I’d really like some better English-version collections of Pope Benedict’s homilies and speeches. A book collecting all his words from the resignations to his final day as pope would be something nice to read and recollect on.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    I do not believe His Holiness the Pope Emeritus wrote a book about Blessed John Paul II, but he was interviewed for a book about the soon-to-be-saint:

  14. liquidpaw says:

    TWF, when a Cardinal (in this case several Cardinals) goes against the CDF in attempting to twist a Dogmatic teaching of the Church to allow sacrilege, how is that not being an apostate? I myself have resorted to less talk and more rosaries for conversion of these prelates leading so many into error. I would also suggest Baltimore Catechism #3 (Fr. Connell’s Confraternity Edition) to really learn and be sure of sound Catholic Truth. One of the things we should be able to expect from our Prelates is to speak out against error and clearly define Truths of the Faith. Unfortunately from the top down, we are getting the opposite. Reading the writings or listening to interviews given by our current Pope and many of the Cardinals (Dolan, Kasper, Marx ) currently among us; compare them to the writings of say, Pope St. Pius X, they are clearly opposite in thinking. Reading a sound Catechism will confirm that.

  15. trespinos says:

    In regard to the subtopic of our host’s posting, namely the role of Abp. Ganswein, no one has commented, so I shall jump in. The See of Cologne needs filling, does it not? Reading here now how vital a service Abp. Ganswein is providing in facilitating communication between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, my hopes for him to be named for Cologne are somewhat tempered. Perhaps he is needed more where he is. In any case, as another poster has explained, the particular rules in place for filling that See may limit the Pope’s choice rather narrowly. It’s a pity, because the Abp. really does seem to have the heart of a pastor.

  16. TWF says:

    While it is possible for a well read Catholic to carefully conclude that certain tenants held by Cardinals or other bishops are heterodox, that is a far cry from condemning Cardinals in good standing as “apostates”, which carries a very particular canonical connotation. Canon Law says:
    “Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”
    I see no evidence that Cardinal Kasper or any other Cardinal in good standing is guilty of “the total repudiation of the Christian faith”; furthermore, while I agree that certain positions can be deemed heterodox, we laity do not have the authority judge that any Cardinal is a heretic, in the canonical sense of the word, or an apostate, or any other canonical offense, for only the Supreme Pontiff may stand in judgment over a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. My point is that some people are using very strong language to criticize certain prelates. David dared not touch King Saul, the Lord’s anointed, despite his manifest sins.

  17. Victor says:

    Trespinos: As much as I would wish for Msg. Gänswein to become the next Archbishop of Cologne (or Freiburg, his home diocese, which is also currently vacant) – I don’t see it coming, because the German diocesan chapters hold the privilege of choosing the new bishops themselves. There are different modi of election (depending on the region) – some elect from a list of three given by Rome, some send a list of three to Rome of which the Holy Father chooses. And Cologne has not been too happy with the supposed arch-conservative Cardinal Meisner… Freiburg is a completely different case: they are simply crazy liberal there and will never out of their free will accept an Archbishop Gänswein.

  18. Ryan says:

    Because having a former Pope who isn’t the Pope but isn’t completely NOT the Pope and is still kinda the Pope but isn’t COMPLETELY the Pope isn’t in the least bit confusing for the faithful…

  19. Gratias says:

    I would like to see Abp. Georg Gänswein as Pope. He is charming to the ladies and smart as a whip, and well trained.

  20. Ben Kenobi says:

    I am not sure what to think of this. Benedict has (and wisely), kept out of the public eye so that Francis could get his ducks in a row without him hovering over his shoulder. I am certain that Francis wants him to be in public simply because Francis cares for the man and feels that keeping him cloistered is all a rather silly thing. Same thing with ‘waiting to publish after he’s gone. I can completely see Francis saying, “what rubbish! The church needs you!” The beauty is that Benedict cannot complain about these requests, either. He has chosen this path, and the result was Benedict.

    I hope it works out the way Francis envisages. The history of the resigned popes is not a pleasant one, as the highlander mentality prevailed. “There can be only one!”

  21. asperges says:

    Ben Kenobi: “He has chosen this path, and the result was Benedict.” You mean “Francis,” I think.

    One year on, I am no more at ease with this Pope, his style or outlook. If he consults Benedict, I doubt he takes much on board, but it is good to be seen to be both charitable and courteous, which I am sure he is.

    Benedictines honour their past abbots and consult them, have them at their current abbot’s table without actually giving them authority as such. It is a nice badge of continuity. Similarly since their is no precedent, the presence of a retired Pope (something JP II opined could /should not exist) gives the impression of continuity although clearly their reigns are destined to be somewhat different.

  22. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Ben Kenobi observed, “The history of the resigned popes is not a pleasant one”. Might we also say – or expand that to – “(anti-)popes”? Has anyone reliably surveyed what we know about their latter days in each case? (Dr. Cossa fascinates me – not unhealthily, I hope – perhaps I am too easily intrigued by his reputedly having been a pirate – something St. Godric is slso reputed to have been.)

  23. Fr AJ says:

    I really don’t like the idea of an “office” or range of duties for a retired Pope, as though this is now normal and every Pope will be expected to resign at a certain age.

  24. BLB Oregon says:

    I am sure that among the wise and holy successors of St Peter, there are few who never wished for the chance to speak directly to one or more of their esteemed predecessors. It would be an arrogant Pope who never thought that he could learn something from those who went before. Pope Francis and Pope Benedict also seem truly complimentary in their thinking, in the best sense. How I would love to be able to listen in to the conversations between them!

    Still, I agree with Benedict XVI’s decision to give himself a secluded living situation at the Vatican and not to do one thing other than to devote himself to prayer and hidden scholarship and to act in public when and only when he is called upon to do by the Pope. If he were to allow himself to act merely as if he were an “ordinary retired member of the clergy,” I think he’d rather be hidden away in Bavaria. When he announced that he would stay at the Vatican but do nothing in public, he left his successor free to give him no public role at all. When he said he was in obedience, he also left his successor free to have him do otherwise. Whatever his role is, then, he has made it clear that it must first and last be one of pointed obedience. That is as it must be.

  25. BLB Oregon says:

    Fr AJ said: “I really don’t like the idea of an “office” or range of duties for a retired Pope, as though this is now normal and every Pope will be expected to resign at a certain age.”

    The great esteem that both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have for Bl. Pope John Paul II leaves the choice of remaining in the Chair of Peter until the moment of death as a praiseworthy one, as well, even when a Pope is greatly afflicted by illness or physical challenge.

    If a Pope dies suddenly one day while his aged predecessor still lives, that is not such a problem. The problem will come if the Pope occupying the Chair of Peter is ever in obviously worse health than the one who left it, but still lives. Yes, that could be very awkward. I suspect in that case the emeritus Pope would retire from public view altogether, in order to avoid the comparison.

  26. HighMass says:

    I guess the news on the Two Popes, Pope Francis and Pope E. Benedict doesn’t get much better than this. We must give Pope Francis kudo’s for wanting Benedict to be more present! Benedict will always be this old boy’s Pope….but to See Pope Francis not being petty and including asking advice etc. is heart warming!
    Pope Francis become a Pope Emeritus seems more like him than it did for Pope E. Benedict to resign…..but Pope Benedict too was full of surprises….
    Well all look forward to seeing Benedict more and more, GOD willing….we also miss his SUNG LITURGIES….To bad Pope Francis doesn’t sing the Mass.

    GOD BLESS THEM BOTH, we pray GOD keeps them in his Care.

  27. sorry for going off topic a tad but i was hoping Pope Francis would make archbishop Ganswein a cardinal. Is that possible?

  28. scholastica64 says:

    I’m with you Gratias. I personally believe that Abp. Ganswein would make a great next pope, but my reasons for this are more intuitive than obvious.

  29. Uxixu says:

    I keep thinking we’ll eventually see a new Pope who will defy the conventional expectations and not only do a proper Coronation but don the Tiara again and celebrate a full Papal Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Ah to pray for it, anyway.

    What is the rationale for the mandatory retirement anyway? Our beloved pastor emeritus seems perfectly capable of continuing to perform his duties for example. It almost seems as if 70 is too… quick and 75 for regulars and 80 for bishops might be more appropriate if declining mental and physical ability is the concern.

  30. Incaelo says:

    The Bitter Pill is at it again, taking this interview as a reason to call for the removal of Archbishop Gänswein… Typical.

    In response to boxerpaws1952‘s question: It is certainly possible for Pope Francis to make Archbishop Gänswein a cardinal. He is a baptised Catholic, a priest, a bishop… nothing to prevent that. But will it happen? I doubt it, at least not while Abp. Gänswein runs the Papal Household. Since 1914, none of the prefects have been cardinals (and the last, Cardinal Gasparri, was already a cardinal when appointed to the Household). That said, all Prefects of the papal Household since then were later made cardinals, either in their retirement or in a new fuction. And Pope Francis likely has his eyes outside of the Curia when it comes to new cardinals anyway.

    So who knows? It may happen, or it may not.

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