Amid the controversy of Benedict’s book, Vatican officials see the need for rules about ex-popes

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A mess about the participation of former Pope Benedict in a book has prompted calls from some Vatican officials to establish clear rules about the status of any future pontiff who can resign rather than govern for life.

FILE PHOTO: The book “From the depths of our hearts”, co-written by retired Pope Benedict XVI, is exhibited in a bookstore in Paris, France, on January 15, 2020. REUTERS / Gonzalo Fuentes / File Photo

Sources of senior officials said they expect Pope Francis to address the issue after the death of Benedict, who in 2013 became the first Pope to abdicate in 700 years and is now a 92-year-old fragile.

The idea of ​​such rules, which is being discussed informally, is important because, as people live longer than in the past, it can become the new normal for potatoes to quit, sources said, who spoke on condition of anonymity. .

Francis, 83, said he would also resign if poor health prevented him from properly administering the 1.3 billion Catholic Church, as Benedict did.

Church law says that a pope can resign, but he lacks specific rules about his status, title and prerogatives. The theme exploded this week amid a controversy surrounding a book that, according to the editors, was co-author of Benedict and Cardinal Robert Sarah, one of the Vatican’s leading conservatives, on the subject of priestly celibacy.

On the eve of the publication, Benedict said he wanted his name removed as co-author. The editors refused. Sarah said Benedict knew he would appear as co-author and dismissed the allegations that he had manipulated the former pontiff.

“The Pope emeritus has once again been dragged into an indecent power game against Francisco,” wrote Austen Ivereigh, author of two biographies of Francisco, adding that “the papacy emeritus has proven to be a disorderly institution, one vulnerable to manipulation. … ”

Francisco’s supporters see the time of the book as an interference from Church conservatives, like Sarah, who comes when the Pope considers allowing older married men to be ordained in the most remote areas of the Amazon, to deal with the shortage of priests there.

Since he resigned, Benedict has occasionally allowed his opinions on specific issues to be transmitted outside the Vatican, to the joy of other conservatives who have used them as ammunition to compete with Francisco’s most open papacy.

Papal resignations remain a new frontier. Days before Benedict abdicated on February 28, 2013, he wrote his own rules, investing with the title of Pope Emeritus, deciding to continue wearing white and living in the Vatican.


Some critics believe he should have moved further away from the papacy and strictly kept his promise to “remain hidden from the world” after abdicating.

“In the Catholic Church, symbols are important,” said Father Tom Reese, a Washington-based Catholic author and commentator for Religion News Service.

“Symbols communicate, teach. If you are not the Pope, you should not wear white. Having two men dressed in white sitting next to each other makes them look the same, when they are not, ”he wrote.

Reese said that a former pontiff should not be called pope, he should reuse the red or black attire of a cardinal or priest, and he should reuse his own name.

As a pope is also bishop of Rome, Reese and others have suggested that a former pontiff should be called “bishop emeritus of Rome.”

Then it would be subject to the same written rules, last updated in 2004, covering retired bishops.

These rules say that any bishop emeritus “will want to avoid any attitude and relationship that might imply some kind of authority parallel to that of the diocesan bishop, with harmful consequences for pastoral life and the unity of the diocesan community.”

Report by Philip Pullella; Edited by Frances Kerry

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