Pope Benedict XVI marks Battle of Britain anniversary in 2010
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Jorge Mario Bergoglio would go on to become Pope Francis after he was elected as pontiff on March 13, 2013, following the resignation of Benedict, who made the unprecedented move to become the first living Pope to stand down while in office in more than 600 years. His reign has been lauded by many liberal worshippers within Catholicism, as the 84-year-old attempted to modernise the church by making it a more inclusive religion. The eight years within the Vatican’s highest position has seen Francis make historic moves that will ensure his legacy continues long after he is replaced.
Images of Francis embracing a man covered in tumours, kissing the feet of ex-warring African leaders, and praying on his own in St. Peter’s Square while the world was restricted by the devastating coronavirus pandemic, have dominated his time within the Vatican.
Yet, while he has managed in some respects to shift the church’s identity, through moves such as indicating support for same-sex civil unions last year, many observers have noted how Benedict’s presence in the upper echelons of the Vatican have stifled Francis’ agenda.
Lynda Telford, who penned Women in the Vatican – Female Power in a Male World, told Express.co.uk that since Benedict continues to live within the Vatican, he is able to exert his influence over cardinals and senior members of the church.
This has frustrated some of Francis’ decision-making, and ensured that the church doesn’t pass its traditionalist past, something Benedict’s reign as pontiff is remembered for.
Ms Telford accused Benedict of “pushing himself into the forefront of events in a way that’s highly unsuitable”, claiming the ex-pontiff “should be ashamed of himself”.
Her remarks came after Benedict commented on how some conservative-leaning worshippers still believed he was the “real” Pope, despite standing down nearly a decade ago due to his deteriorating health.
Ms Telford said Benedict “would be delighted to be mistaken for the ‘real’ Pope”, adding: “Frankly, due to his behaviour, which seems to be getting worse, and his interference more blatant, I wouldn’t put anything past him in his determination to put someone in power who would carry on his traditionalist agenda, destroying the good work done by Francis.
“It would be a disaster for the church, and I’m sure many would be disappointed by such an outcome and withdraw from any further interest in it, should that happen.”
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During his time as Pope, Francis has carried out 52 papal trips and delivered thousands of speeches, which Vatican News notes were “aimed at shifting the church toward simplicity, collegiality and care for the poor and outcast”.
Some liberal-leaning critics have claimed in the past that while Francis has discussed a variety of topics, including women’s roles within the church and celibacy, he has failed to escalate his reforms quick enough.
Yet, among his biggest achievements that can be celebrated is the manner in which he reshaped the College of Cardinals.
He moved the College away from its traditional make-up, and made it “less white, less Italian and less representative of the Roman curia”, the New York Times’ Jason Horowitz detailed in 2019.
Francis opted to balance out the College, welcoming in more Latin American, Asian and African cardinals, including representatives from nations such as Morocco, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
More recently, Francis also made the groundbreaking decision to appoint Nathalie Becquart to a senior role – a post previously only ever held by men.
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The decision further strengthened Francis’ growing appeal with liberals inside, and outside of the church, with Sister Becquart becoming undersecretary of the synod of bishops.
It sees Sister Becquart become the first woman to vote on church matters.
The move was hailed by secretary general of the synod, Cardinal Mario Grech, who said it showed Francis’ desire to have “a greater participation of women in the decision-making in Catholicism” had been realised.
Critics claim Benedict continues to hamper Francis, and his bid to rid the Catholic church of its seemingly outdated traditions.
The spat between the two has left many observers fearing for the fate of the church – especially if Francis is unable to fulfil his mandate of dragging Catholicism into the 21st century.
But one decision Benedict made left Vatican insiders, and worshippers alike, furious after he went behind the church’s back to publish a book on celibacy, at a crucial time when Francis was deciding to relax the laws.
Co-authored alongside Cardinal Robert Sarah, From the Depths of Our Hearts was highly critical of any move allowing married men into the priesthood.
Within the text, Benedict said that “given that the conjugal state affects all men, and that the service of the Lord requires also a complete giving of man, it does not seem possible to realise both vocations simultaneously”.
The former pontiff had originally vowed to let his successor carry out his own designs for the church, and YouTube channel Rome Reports said that the move therefore disappointed those close to the Vatican.
It reported: “Some are surprised that Benedict has published a book on this issue.
“According to Pope Emeritus’ secretary, he is in no condition to give speeches on complex topics despite being coherent.”
The channel claimed that Cantagalli, the book’s publisher, said the two co-authors were only “in search of the truth in love for the unity of the church” and in no way criticised Pope Francis.
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