Expert Comment: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
31 December 2022
On the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Professor Rebecca Rist, University of Reading medieval historian and expert on papal history, is available for interview, and has made the following comment...
Professor Rist said:
“Benedict XVI’s choice of name on becoming Pope in 2005 expressed his devotion to Benedict of Nursia (480-548), father of western monasticism, and Benedict XV (1914-1922), pope during World War I.
“There have previously been a number of medieval German pontiffs, most famously Leo IX (1049-1054), but Joseph Ratzinger was the first German pope of modern times.
Benedict's record as pope
“Through his encyclicals ‘Deus caritas est’, ‘Spe Salvi’ and ‘Caritas in veritate’, Benedict XVI insisted on the Church’s teaching that ethical decisions are based on objective morality, rather than at the mercy of ‘the Dictatorship of Relativism’. As pontiff he increased the number and speed of beatifications and canonizations, allowed the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, began the process of addressing widespread clerical sexual abuse, and initiated sometimes controversial inter-faith dialogue.
“His outstanding qualities were as a theologian and teacher. In this he was very different from, for example, his predecessor John Paul II (1978-2005), a political activist and savvy communicator, or John XXIII (1958-1963), who was seen as a non-intellectual with a populist touch.
“Benedict’s scholarly nature sat side by side with his love of music, feline friends, and sartorial elegance – the latter evidenced in his liking for Swiss watches, papal hats, and custom-made red shoes.
“Critics argue that while pope he only touched the surface in cleaning up financial scandals, as in the case of the Vati-Leaks scandal in 2012 which exposed power struggles and faction fighting in the Vatican.
“His resignation in 2013 at the age of 85, was the first time a pope had willingly resigned the papal office since Celestine V (1294), and the last time a pope has resigned since Gregory XII (1406-1415) during the Western Schism.
'Two popes' period
“Benedict’s passing brings an end to the situation of having a ‘Pope Emeritus’ and a Pope at the same time, Francis I. His death puts an end to fears that, if Francis were himself to resign, the Church could have face the unprecedented problem of ‘three popes’ – a new pope and two ‘Popes Emeriti’.”