After the death of Benedict XVI, on December 31, 2022, several Vaticanists reported a “revolt” by some conservative cardinals. They rely on the recent publication of the book by Msgr. Georg Gänswein and that of Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, to put forward the hypothesis of a “secret plan” aimed at putting Pope Francis under such pressure that he will eventually resign.
On his blog Corrispondenza romana of January 11, 2023, Roberto de Mattei quotes an article by Massimo Franco in the Corriere della Sera of January 8:
“Among the main representatives of this front, Franco mentions, in addition to Msgr. Georg Gänswein [former personal secretary of Benedict XVI], Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Faith, and Timothy Broglio, the new president of the American bishops.”
But as the Italian historian rightly notes: “In the same newspaper, which expresses the voice of the progressive establishment, Gian Guido Vecchi writes that ‘in the undergrowth of the traditionalist opposition to Francis, there is a post-mortem attempt to use Benedict XVI as a standard and create a conflict between the two popes, which in reality did not exist” [Corriere della Sera, January 10].
For Roberto de Mattei: “The maneuver clearly consists in making the conservatives responsible for a conflict whose main architects are [in reality] today the German bishops, engaged in their “synodal path.”
At the same time, these progressive Vaticanists point out that even if the “anti-Francis” cabal managed to obtain a resignation, that would not mean that they would succeed in placing “a man of their own” on the Throne of Peter.
Massimo Franco sees above all in the current maneuvers of the conservatives “the awareness that they do not have a single and strong candidate to oppose the progressives.” The fact is that since the beginning of his pontificate, until last August, Francis has appointed 113 cardinals, of whom 83 are electors, out of a total of 132.
Especially since, as Roberto de Mattei recalls quoting Msgr. Gänswein in his recent work (Nothing But the Truth): among “the papabili many of those who are considered to be more ‘liberal’ representatives, to use a term of common understanding, were promoted to important roles precisely under the pontificate of Benedict XVI.
“Among the names put forward by the Prefect of the Pontifical Household are the main cardinals of the progressive front, such as Jean-Claude Hollerich (Archbishop of Luxembourg, 2011), Luis Antonio Tagle (Archbishop of Manila, 2011), and Matteo Maria Zuppi (Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, 2012). The split between “Ratzingerians” and “Bergoglians” is therefore not so clear. How can one deny the existence of growing confusion?”
The Ambiguous Legacy of Benedict XVI
It must be admitted that this confusion is maintained by the ambiguous heritage of Benedict XVI himself. As Côme de Prévigny points out in Renaissance Catholique on January 26, the deceased pope developed “the thesis of a betrayed council, whose intentions were allegedly perverted, which would not have explicitly wished for the damage that followed and which had been hijacked by the media.”
“It is the famous explanation that he presented many times in Rome. It probably did not take sufficient account of the fact that the reforms of Vatican II were applied not by journalists but, within the dioceses, by the bishops who knew full well what they had voted in the conciliar aula.”
And in any case, notes the French historian, on the subjects where “the Council innovated, such as the ends of marriage, collegiality, religious freedom, and ecumenism, Benedict XVI endorsed the reforms to the point of continuing interreligious dialogue, not hesitating to renew the famous Assisi meeting, though it was judged as one of the most questionable expressions of the pontificate of his predecessor.”
“About the founding principles of Catholicity, he also justified the abolition of the Catholic States, turning his back on the principle of the social reign of Christ over societies as it had been understood for fifteen centuries. However, it was this same principle of Christian States that originally made it possible to emerge from the era of persecution, to evangelize the world, to build steeples in all the villages established under the gentle yoke of Christianity.”
“And it is its abolition that germinates a scent of relativism marked by a generalized dechristianization of societies and a galloping disaffection of the churches. By maintaining the principles of the Council, there is therefore much to fear that their most disastrous consequences, as we have seen over the past sixty years, will continue to do their work within the Church.”
And he concludes with two irrefutable facts: “By asking that the traditional missal be completely abandoned in the short term, [and] by convening a synod on synodality to make any backtracking impossible, the current pontiff wants to definitively destroy the principle of the hermeneutic of continuity which failed the day Benedict XVI resigned [his office].”
A Utopian Hermeneutics
On the failure of this ambiguous hermeneutic, Fr. Claude Barthe in Res novæ on January 31, taking up an interview granted to Edward Pentin for the National Catholic Register of January 9, maintains:
“In his December 2005 address to the Roman Curia, Benedict XVI explained, rather vaguely, his project: to apply to Vatican II a ‘hermeneutic of progress in continuity’. This for the lex credenda [law of believing].”
“Moreover, according to him, one of the effects of the liberalization of the old liturgy should be to allow, by emulation, by contact, ‘enrichment,’ to correct and interpret correctly the new liturgy. There was utopian. For, however it is celebrated and interpreted, the new liturgy retains its intrinsic failings, which are doctrinal failings.”
However, at the same time, “Benedict XVI also favored the celebration of the pre-conciliar liturgy, a lex orandi attached to a lex credendi that was also pre-conciliar. Benedict XVI has unwillingly, or perhaps in part willingly, laid a mine under the Council edifice.”
Such is Benedict XVI’s ambivalent legacy, which can only fuel growing confusion, and on which a solid reaction to the post-conciliar debacle cannot be based. As Côme de Prévigny says: “We must now pray that a pope, definitively freed from the Council and the issues related to it, can write a new page for the Church, reaffirming the eternal principles of Catholicism.”