After receiving the red hat during the ordinary public consistory ceremony, Pope Francis took the new cardinals to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery to pay what is now a traditional courtesy visit to Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI.
More than nine years have passed since Pope Benedict XVI decided to renounce the sovereign pontificate: henceforth, the “the shadow papacy” – to use the subtitle of the book, Il Monastero, by Massimo Franco, a columnist at Corriere della Sera – has exceeded in duration the actual reign of the German pontiff.
But, since the beginning of the summer, concerns about Benedict XVI’s health have become more and more persistent, especially that expressed in a talk given by his private secretary on June 18, 2022, at the castle of Nyphenburg in Münich, Germany, during the celebration of the former Roman pontiff’s 95th birthday on April 16.
A speech marked by a sob: “I would never have believed that the last part of the way between the Mater Ecclesiae monastery and the gate of Heaven guarded by St. Peter would be so long, that's what Benedict XVI told me,” said Msgr. Georg Gänswein at the time.
And the man responsible for watching over the health of the predecessor of Pope Francis added: “The last few years have gotten the better of his strength.” It was enough to revive speculation around Benedict XVI real state of health.
The minutes of the ordinary public consistory of August 27 set a different tone: “At the end of the ceremony, Pope Francis and the new cardinals went to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery to meet Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for a brief greeting. After receiving his blessing, as well as that of Pope Francis, and praying the Salve Regina together, the new cardinals returned to the Apostolic Palace and Paul VI Hall for the traditional courtesy visits.”
And the press service added that “the visit to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican gardens has become a custom since the consistory of 2016. In 2014 and 2015, Benedict XVI attended in person the celebrations of the two consistories which took place took place in the Vatican Basilica.”
In the official photographs, we see the German pontiff and the current pope all smiles, and the new cardinals, visibly moved and happy to meet Benedict XVI.
But it is possible to think that the pope who had sought, even if in a partial way, to free the traditional mass somewhat by the 2007 motu proprio was not at ease with the new cardinal Arthur Roche, gravedigger of this text.
And also with Cardinal Robert Walter McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, California, United States, who opposed to the principle of banning communion from political leaders favorable to the legalization of abortion, while Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had given directives contrary to the American bishops.
The former pope must have suffered from his situation since Francis became his successor. But his actions as pope were in line with the revolution instituted by the Second Vatican Council, and he thus prepared the way for the present pontificate which has only pushed, in a radical way, the principles established then.
Even if he sought to direct this impetuous current, particularly via his “hermeneutics of continuity,” he did not seek to reduce it. And now he has to witness, helplessly, certain consequences that he probably did not want.