The ‘two popes’ and two kinds of relations between Francis and Benedict

Massimo Faggioli, Professor of Historical Theology at Villanova University, reflects on some of the questions and challenges arising from the transition from Pope Benedict XVI to Pope Francis.

The expression ‘the two popes’ is as ecclesiologically incorrect as it is hard to beat as far as the media are concerned. The cohabitation between the pope and his predecessor has become part of the landscape of the Vatican since February 2013: Francis, the Bishop of Rome, Pope of the Catholic Church, and Benedict XVI who decided to resign and to call a conclave tasked with the election of a new pope. The novelty of the transition from Benedict XVI to Francis has been the subject not only of journalistic analysis, but also of artistic productions, such as films (The Two Popes, dir. Fernando Meirelles, 2019), TV series (The Young Pope, 2016 and The New Pope, 2020, dir. Paolo Sorrentino) and a theatre play (The White Helicopter, by Alvis Hermanis, with Russian dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov as Benedict XVI, 2019).
What remains to be done is a historical analysis that is necessary to start the long-term process of building a theological and ecclesiological tradition on this particular development of the papal office or Petrine ministry which could well become a feature of Catholicism in the future.

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