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The two Popes

“It’s unfortunate,” says Gerry Whelan SJ, an Irish Jesuit teaching theology in Italy, responding to the news that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written publically about defending priestly celibacy as Pope Francis considers the possibility of allowing older, married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon region.

In an interview from Rome with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Gerry says that when Benedict writes something like this it causes confusion, not least because it raises the question ‘Is this from the magisterium’? In theory, says Gerry, “Benedict comments as a private citizen, but in practice it’s confusing for people.”

The Irish Jesuit theologian, who teaches in the Gregorian University in Rome and has recently published a book on Pope Francis [listen to interview here »], says that the release of Benedict’s text, which is included in a book authored by Cardinal Sarah, seems to have been carefully timed. The book appears just as Francis is due to publish, in 2020, his own letter (an ‘apostolic exhortation’) on foot of the historic Amazon Synod that took place last year.

Does this portray a different reality to the picture of rapprochement between Bergolio and Ratzinger in the widely acclaimed film The Two Popes? In Gerry’s view, the film appears to tally well with the portrayal of their relationship which emerges from the biographies of both men, even if some artistic license is taken. He remarks, however, that this is not inconsistent with differences in attitude and approach. Francis has his own ways and methods of forwarding his vision for the Church in the 21st century, even to the point of making substantial reforms to structures which Benedict had put in place.

As an example of this, Gerry refers to the Pope merging two congregations, Propaganda Fide and the Congregation for the New Evangelization which was set up by Benedict, into one large dicastery. This new body will have responsibility for the missionary activity of the Church, including the training of missionary clergy and the appointment of bishops to mission territories. To head up this powerful ‘super-dicastery’ Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines. Tagle shares the Pope’s vision and many believe he could make a major impact on the Church worldwide. Gerry sees this development as illustrative of the creativity of Pope Francis as he negotiates his way through complicated situations.

Listen to the full interview above.