VATICAN CITY (AP) — Retired Pope Benedict XVI will mark his 65th anniversary as a priest with a June 28 Vatican ceremony attended by Pope Francis amid fresh confusion over the roles played by the current and emeritus pontiffs.
The Joseph Ratzinger Foundation, a Vatican-based foundation dedicated to promoting the works of the emeritus pope, said on its website Wednesday that the ceremony would be held in one of the Vatican’s main reception halls and that Benedict would be given a book about the priesthood as a gift.
It will be a rare outing for the 89-year-old Benedict, who has largely kept to his promise upon retirement to remain “hidden” from the world in prayer.
Benedict’s longtime aide, however, recently sparked a minor outcry when he declared Benedict hadn’t abandoned the papal ministry with his 2013 resignation but had rather turned it into a “quasi shared ministry.”
“Since the election of his successor Francis on March 13, 2013, there are not therefore two popes but de facto an expanded ministry, with an active member and a contemplative member,” Archbishop Georg Gaenswein said in a May 20 speech at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“This is why Benedict XVI has not given up either his name or the white cassock,” Gaenswein added.
Ever since Benedict stunned the world Feb. 11, 2013 by announcing that he would become the first pope in 600 years to resign, questions have swirled about how the Catholic Church would respond to two men in white, a real and a retired pope living side-by-side in the Vatican gardens.
To date, it doesn’t seem that Francis has been impeded by Benedict’s continued presence. But the conservative German theologian remains a point of nostalgic reference for the conservative and traditionalist wing of the church, whose members have made clear they don’t appreciate Francis’ loose theology, lack of attention to liturgy and emphasis on mercy over morals.
In his speech, Gaenswein defended Benedict’s decisions and insisted that through his resignation he had “renewed,” ”strengthened” and de-mythologized the office of the papacy.
Criticism of his speech was swift and fierce, even among Benedict’s fans.
The office of the pope, wrote papal biographer George Weigel, “is not divisible in any fashion, nor can it be a dyarchy in which one exercises the mission of governance and another exercises a mission of prayer.”
In an essay in the conservative publication First Things, Weigel said that Benedict’s 2013 decision to keep his name and white cassock were mistaken.
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