Two popes, plotting cardinals and the fallout of an explosive book

Source: The Guardian

By Angela Giuffrida, who is the Guardian’s Rome correspondent

Benedict and his inner circle are accused of intervening to halt Pope Francis relaxing celibacy rules as the battle between conservative and liberal factions takes a new twist

The pilgrims filing into the papal audience hall last Wednesday were mostly oblivious to the saga enveloping the Vatican over an explosive new book that pits the retired Pope Benedict XVI against the reigning Pope Francis. But they were clear on who their favourite is.

Pope Francis, right, with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Photograph: L’Osservatore Romano/EPA  Suggested reading: Pope Francis: Satan Is Stalking The Catholic Church

“I would not have come all this way for Benedict,” said Marisol Durán Vergora, a first-time visitor to the Vatican from Spain. “He is an extremist, whereas Francis is more human and closer to the people.” Another pilgrim, who wished to remain anonymous, speculated after being briefed on the goings-on: “Benedict decided to abdicate and should keep his promise of staying silent.”

The ex-pontiff, who chose to be called Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI after his abdication in 2013, instead of reverting to Joseph Ratzinger, is at the centre of a drama that has been more entertaining than the Oscar-nominated film, The Two Popes. It started with a book written with the outspoken conservative cardinal Robert Sarah defending priestly celibacy. That in itself would not have caused a stir. But the timing of the book’s release, as Pope Francis considers allowing the ordination of married men in remote areas of the Amazon in order to overcome a shortage of priests, led many to accuse Benedict, who still lives within the walls of Vatican City and continues to wear a white cassock, of breaching his vow of silence and undermining his successor’s authority.

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