The recent uproar about Bishop Gänswein's utterings about the Petrine Office seems a tad exaggerated to me.
My understanding already was that Benedict kept dressing in white, and chose the title “Pontiff Emeritus” exactly for the reasons Gänswein says: because he sees himself as still a Pope, albeit one who does not work as such anymore. I repeat here examples already made in the past: a Professor Emeritus is still a Professor, but he does not teach anymore. Clearly, Benedict wanted to avoid the accusation of, so to speak, having “pulled a Celestine”. Once Pope, always Pope.
“I do not have the strength to be an effective Pope”, he says. “But I could not divest myself of the Papacy more than I could the priesthood”. Makes a lot of sense to me.
Now, Gänswein's remark might be meaning, in a very indirect, plausibly deniable way, that a good Catholic appalled by the Evil Clown can draw from strength from Benedict for an image of the Papacy that allows him to sleep at night, but this is already understood by everyone!
The word “extended” is, I think, what caused the ruckus. But Gänswein also made clear that there is only one Pope in charge. Therefore, the concrete exercise of what it is to be a Pope can only be his exclusive competence. Benedict does not rivendicate a concrete papal remit. He simply wants to avoid the accusation of dereliction of duty.
Finally, another element makes this discussion largely irrelevant: age. Benedict is very old and very frail, and chances are he will not be with us for long. It seems not probable that he may outlive Francis. Even if he did, he could not be re-elected Pope because he has officially resigned the office of Cardinal, and is more than 80 years old, and no one would be authorised to invite him to the next Conclave.
This “legitimate alternative spiritual papacy” dreamed by some can come to an end any day, and when it does the problems will remain exactly the same. Therefore, it can only be a pale palliative, and only for a short time, for the suffering of a Catholic. It would be no solution to anything even if it worked logically, which it doesn't.
I don't need for Pius X or Pius XII to be alive in order to see in them paragons of good, holy Papacies.
And I will rather look to them than to Benedict anyway.
I have published already a blog post concerned with the (worrying) leadership situation emerging – as it seems, in a rather incontrovertible way; unless some documents have been forged or there is crucial information we do not know; which both seem improbable – from the latest “Vatileaks” documents.
I see around me a reaction to these leaks I struggle to understand.
Firstly, let me say last time I looked the publication of confidential documents exposing scandals within an organisation was not called “leaking”, but whistleblowing.
If these documents are made public with an honest intention, I can’t see anything wrong with it. No one seems to complain about the certainly extremely powerful whistleblower(s) who gave the Corriere della Sera devastating material about Annibale Bugnini and put an end to his career; and no one would have complained if Marcial Maciel would have been publicly exposed from within the Vatican when it was clear Pope John Paul II was either naive, or blind, or both. Still, some knew about Maciel and said nothing. How is this being loyal to the Church? How would blowing the whistle on him have been disloyal?
Of course, the questions about the truthfulness and the real aims of the person or group of people behind this operation cannot be ascertained yet: they could be mischievous schemers wanting to sabotage the Pope, or honest people of God wanting to free him from the grasp of people they consider too powerful, too dangerous, and too little attached to the Church. Still, I can’t see why the one hypothesis should be enthusiastically accepted, and the other discarded a priori.
As I have already written, the Vatican is clearly a sieve, where everyone who is anyone can have access to reserved documents and confidential information. Therefore, the following hypotheses are in my eyes both valid:
a) A group of powerful prelates (note they do not hesitate in saying “we”, at least wanting everyone to believe there is a group behind this initiative; and if this is so, it is easy to believe it is not a group without influence) has the pockets full of Bertone and Gaenswein for fully legitimate reasons, and has decided to give the Pope the alternative between getting rid of the two now, or waiting until they have been cut into very little pieces by several instalments of revelations concerning very, very bad practice. If this is true, the letters already revealed are clearly the last warning salvo: impressive enough in what they reveal, but without aiming at the two men directly. Always in this perspective (which is, clearly, only hypothetical) these people have devastating revelations in their hands, then if they are honest in their intentions they would never bark in such astonishing way without being able to bite accordingly. If this is true, the target of the first salvo is extremely clear: Bertone and Gaenswein have the Pope in their hands to such an extent that they move him to clearly questionable behaviour, creating a camarilla of people who take their own decision and keep everyone else, even very highly positioned Cardinals like Burke, out of the loop.
Concerning the SSPX, we can’t really say whether this group is for them or against them. It may well be that they see Bertone and Gaenswein as having too much influence, and fear that the two together have persuaded Pope Benedict to wait before he announces the reconciliation (no decision within May. Coincidence?) and might persuade him to postpone it sine die. Therefore, they proceed to fire on the two with all their cannons, until the Pope draws the consequences.
All this might be true or false, but I can’t see how anyone can say that it wouldn’t make sense. It is not that the Vatican corridors are populated by innocent school girls, be they friends or enemies of the SSPX.
b) A group of powerful prelates is concerned about the way things are going: the imminent reconciliation with the SSPX on the one side, and the personal power of Gaenswein and Bertone on the other. This is, in this scenario, motivated by pure thirst for power and influence, rather than from sincere desire to help the Church; or else, by an in itself sincere desire to move the Church towards, say, Cardinal Schoenborn. Therefore, they want to take both Gaenswein and Bertone down, hoping that at that point the Pontiff will appoint people more able to move him toward VII/liberal/progressive decisions. Also in this scenario, either these people are merely slandering and hoping that some mud will stick, or they do have devastating evidence of the doings of the two and will only stop when they have both gone.
Again, all this might be true or false, but even with very innocent spectacles it is difficult not to see this scenario as at least possible. Still: must this be the only possible scenario?
In addition, I would like to point out to a fatal flaw of the “poor Pope Benedict, surrounded by wolves”- mantra. Pope Benedict has ruled over the Vatican for now seven years with such absolute powers as no other ruler on Earth can claim. Every appointment and every decision depended from him. If wolves are circling around him, they are wolves he chose. If the Vatican is dominated by intrigues and falseness, this is intrigue and falseness he promoted to the top of the Vatican hierarchy. If there is rot at the top, it is rot he allowed to fester every step of the way. It is to me nothing less than astonishing that John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II should be burdened with the full responsibility of what happened during their pontificate, but this should not apply to Pope Benedict. The latter is, instead, either supposed to have an evil twin making all the wrong decisions and appointing all the wrong people while the real Pontiff is sleeping, or else he is thought to live in a crystal ball which completely isolates him from the outer world, and allows only the voice of the “wolves” to filter through.
Seriously, folks: such a naive cleric wouldn’t become Pope in the first place. Add to this that this particular Pope had been an old fox of the Vatican not for years, but for decades before he became Pope and I can’t believe there is one single trick in the book he hasn’t seen already. Therefore, the Celestine V argument most certainly does not apply to him.
It can’t be that Popes are held accountable only when we happen not to like their ideological stance, but we start seeing “wolves” everywhere when we do.