Andreas Englisch: Pope Francis and Benedict are at complete odds with each other
Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI are reportedly in complete disagreement: “They do not speak a word with one another.” This is the startling message which Vaticanist Andreas Englisch presented on March 16 during a lecture in Limburg. For many years, Englisch was the Italy and Vatican correspondent for the [German] Axel Springer media conglomerate in Rome. With 30 years of experience in Rome, he is considered to be a renowned Vatican expert. At [Limburg’s] Josef Kohlmaier Hall Englisch told the inside story on the topic of “Francis – Fighter in the Vatican” [the title of his latest book], according to a March 18 report of the Nassauische Neue Post [newspaper]. The look behind the scenes at the Vatican which Englisch offered his audience was even more dramatic than the Nassauische Neue Post conveyed in its article.
“Francis and Benedict do not speak a word with each other”
It was not necessary for the journalist to hide his esteem for Francis, which is well-known already. Englisch knows how to fascinate his audience. Yes, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has a new job at the Vatican, he said, at the “post office” — because under Pope Francis, that’s all there is for people who “put themselves above the doctrine of Jesus Christ and do not interact with the common faithful at eye level.” [These are] daring statements — by Englisch about the Pope and by the Pope about a brother bishop. What Englisch didn’t say: Who is suited for nothing more than the “post office” is not so much determined by real or imagined “golden bathtubs” [which Tebartz-van Elst was rumored to have purchased before his removal] than by one’s ideas about the Church. The social component with its myth about commitment for the poor is always well received by a public audience, but it is not very meaningful in terms of the actual issue; rather, it makes matters more obscure.
What’s more explosive — because it’s of much greater significance in its extent — than the Limburg case is what Englisch said about the relationship between Francis and Benedict XVI: The current and the former Pope have completely logged heads, he claimed, [adding that] the two are no longer on speaking terms. And that [has been the case] not just since yesterday.
What does this mean? According to his own testimony, Benedict XVI only appears in public at Francis’ express request. What is displayed on these few occasions, then — if we follow Andreas Englisch — is simply [Benedict] putting up a good front, with an exchange of pleasantries. Englisch mentions the Limburg case as the reason for the rift, in which Benedict reportedly intervened to get Bishop Tebartz-van Elst to stay [in office as the bishop of Limburg]. That is one aspect at best. Limburg is certainly not the main reason for such a fundamental break in the relationship between two Popes.
Francis “knows what he wants” and does “what he wants”
The Rome correspondent described Francis as a strong personality. He “knows what he wants” and makes it known. Benedict, by contrast, is a “solid theologian”, but was a “weak leader”, Englisch said.
For decades, however, this sounded quite different when in the German media the talk was always about the “tough armored cardinal” [“harten Panzerkardinal“]. In order to push a certain narrative, it seems that at any given time more or less anything goes, back then as well as today.
In any case, Englisch says, Benedict allowed many others to make decisions, whereas Pope Francis does “whatever he wants”.
If we reflect on Englisch’s testimony, this would mean that Benedict XVI was publicly demoted to [the role of] a mere supernumerary who barely has anything in common with Francis, but whom Francis needs every so often for the sake of [good] appearance, and whom he deploys as needed. Against this background, Benedict’s absence for the most recent elevation of cardinals on November 19 appears of greater significance. Francis’ creation of cardinals belongs to those few events for which the current Pope calls his predecessor to appear in public. Benedict XVI appeared at St. Peter’s Basilica for the elevation of cardinals in 2014 and 2015. For the third elevation, however, he was missing, whereupon Francis took the new cardinals and quickly drove them over to [see] Benedict at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. Apparently [he did this] also in order to preventatively ward off the kind of conclusions which Englisch has now drawn. Francis apparently suspects a demonstrative act [on Benedict’s part] behind his no-show.
Pressure on Benedict XVI to resign
In any case, the timing does not suggest it was a courtesy visit, which is how the Vatican spun it; rather, it was highly explosive. Five days before the consistory the four cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner had made public their dubia (doubts) concerning the controversial post-synodal document Amoris laetitia, because Pope Francis had failed to give them an answer for two months. With the dubia, they squarely put themselves in Francis’ way, who has since been trying to ignore the issue, which has forced his closest collaborators and supporters to [engage in] sweat-inducing verbal acrobatics. Francis has prevailed with his [strategy of] silence, yet he emerges weakened from the conflict as a Pope who refuses to answer questions that concern central issues of faith and morals. The damage [this has caused to his] image has greatly overshadowed his pontificate.
What the Nassauische Neue Post did not report: According to Englisch, different ecclesiastical forces pressured Benedict XVI to resign.
This statement has explosive force. The circumstances which led to the papal resignation, in this form quite unique in Church history, have been feeding serious doubts since then. Exactly where is the line between legitimate influence and coercion? Benedict himself has assured [us] that he resigned freely. Until the contrary is proven, these words retain their validity. At the same time, aside from the legal aspect, there is a strange stalemate in the air. Even more so if one takes into consideration Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini’s all-out demand, [made] in June 2012, that Benedict XVI resign, and the role played by the secretive Saint Gallen group, founded by Martini, at the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
The fact is that Benedict XVI has left the stage, a stage that was afterwards occupied, like the staff of a military general, by [members of] Team Bergoglio of the clandestine Saint Gallen group, and which does not think of leaving it.
(Giuseppe Nardi, “Andreas Englisch: Papst Franziskus und Benedikt haben sich völlig zerstritten”, Katholisches, Mar. 20, 2017; our translation.)
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