Pope Francis 'sent message' with inauguration claims Pelley
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The former pontiff resigned in 2013, with Benedict citing his declining health due to old age as the main factor behind the unprecedented move. His decision paved the way for Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – who would be named Francis – to be elected as the new Vatican head, sparking optimism in some circles that a much needed modernisation programme to revitalise the Catholic church would be installed. Yet, uncertainty surrounding Benedict’s position was unearthed when Sebastian Gomes detailed how “leaks, scandal and a referential attitude among its most powerful administrators had crippled the Vatican” under Benedict’s stewardship.
Mr Gomes said “this internal crisis in the end broke Benedict’s back”.
Vatican author Lynda Telford told Express.co.uk that Benedict’s incapacity to handle major issues at the top of the church, including Catholic sex abuse scandals, had seen insiders feel a change at the top was needed.
She argued that as Benedict still remains in the upper echelons of the church, where he still resides inside the Vatican, he has managed to further his influence – despite leaving his post eight years ago.
When asked whether Benedict was forced into his resignation, Ms Telford said: “Yes, he was certainly pushed.
“That he did not wish to go has been evident all through the reign of Francis, where Benedict has tried to control events from the background, and unfortunately has been all too effective in his opposition to any, much needed, reforms.
“He’s been as obstructive as possible ever since his retirement from ill health yet here he still is, still interfering.”
Ms Telford, who penned Women in the Vatican – Female Power in a Male World, said he was “asked to leave because of the inability to show that serious matters were being dealt with”, something she suggested “people now demand”.
At the time of his resignation, the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found he was popular among most Catholic worshippers, but many were deeply unhappy of his handling of issues such as the sex abuse scandal.
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Around 63 percent of respondents argued he had done a “poor or only fair job”, while 34 percent praised his work as “excellent or good”.
Ms Telford detailed how Benedict was “never popular in a personal sense” as he failed to “connect with ordinary people and was therefore a poor figurehead”.
She said: “People don’t want a distant, academic leader, however clever.
“They want a man who gets on the tram, who visits hospitals and prisons and reaches out to the poor. This is the contrast between the feeling on the streets, and that in the Vatican.
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“The people want someone who cares, and Benedict never did. Finding a pastoral Pope like Francis must have seemed ideal, let him lead from the front while they rule from behind. Unfortunately he wasn’t what they expected, so the traditionalist backlash started.”
Benedict’s resignation was the first time a living Pope had resigned since the 1400s, and some supporters were critical of his decision.
During his farewell speech, Benedict vowed to not interfere with his successor’s agenda, despite claims he would later use his influence over the traditionalists within the church to ensure rituals such as celibacy continued to be observed.
The move was greeted with fanfare in some quarters, including by the Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins, who said: “Like he said in his own words, he acted with ‘full freedom’, being conscious of the deep spiritual implication of his action… by his decision, the Holy Father has acted gallantly and as such we must commend and respect his decision.”
It was described by Ross Douthat, a columnist for The New York Time, as being a “revolutionary gesture that the church so badly needed”.
But Roberto de Mattei, of Catholic Family News, claimed his actions were “the symbol of surrender of the church to the world”.
Since coming to power, Francis has attempted to implement a fresh outlook on the church, and he has been praised for his work on breaking down the barriers of previous regimes against homosexuality.
Despite his good work, and general popularity with the public, Clemente Lisi, assistant professor of journalism at The King’s College in New York, admitted his legacy could be crumbling.
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In 2019, he said that with the rise of more conservative-leaning politicians across the globe, the traditionalist arm of the church will likely succeed in one day replacing Francis with a less progressive figure.
He suggested it could be Cardinal Robert Sarah, who aligned himself with Benedict while he was pontiff.
In a piece for Religion Unplugged, he said: “Criticism of Francis’ papacy is especially felt across conservatives in North America and Western Europe, where the growth of political populism in the Donald Trump and Brexit era has put Pope Francis’ views on climate change and immigration to the left of many Catholic voters.
“The Vatican press office, and the mixed messaging to come out of Rome in recent years, hasn’t helped fill this divide. If anything, it has grown larger in recent years.”
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