Pope Benedict left ‘fanatical friends upset’ over decision to quit
Mourners arrive in St. Peter's for Pope Benedict's funeral
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Pope Benedict, who reigned as the highest figure in Catholicism for eight years from 2005, left many of his “fanatical friends upset” over his controversial decision to stand down as pontiff 10 years ago. The decision sent a shockwave throughout Catholicism, it the first time in some 600 years that a living pope had opted to resign rather than continue in the role until death. When addressing his choice, Benedict, who died at the age of 95 on New Year’s Eve, said he “did well to resign” after noting his health had deteriorated badly.
Benedict’s time as pope was deemed in some quarters as controversial due to his strict traditionalist approach to the teachings of the Catholic church, including his stance on abortion and homosexuality.
But for many of the religion’s more than one billion worshippers, Benedict was a hugely significant leader, helping reestablish aspects of the faith that many felt had become lost.
It was speculated that Benedict had been pushed from his position because of his beliefs, with insiders arguing that while he served, more liberal believers may consider leaving the church altogether.
Yet Benedict told Italy’s Corriere della Sera two years ago that this was not the case, and that it was his decision alone to stand down.
He said: “It was a difficult decision. But it was a fully conscious choice and I think I did well (to resign). Some of my more fanatical friends are still upset, they have not accepted my choice.”
Following the move, Benedict was allowed to continue living in the Vatican. This was seen by his opponents as a power move, effectively allowing Benedict to no longer front the church, but still use his influence over others by remaining within it.
Benedict, though, claimed any ill-feeling towards him staying were “conspiracy theories”, and added: “They don’t want to believe that it was a conscious choice. My conscience is clear.”
His presence in the Vatican despite no longer being in charge sparked speculation that Pope Francis, who replaced Benedict, was becoming frustrated at being unable to push through his agenda for the church.
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It even led some Benedict supporters to argue that the former pontiff was still “pope emeritus”, as he was also allowed to continuing wearing white — a colour saved for the pope himself.
The 95-year-old said these claims were untrue: “There is only one pope.”
Thousands of Catholics have descended upon the Vatican in recent days to see Benedict’s body as it was lying-in-state, culminating in an estimated 135,000 people watching the funeral on Thursday in St Peter’s Square.
Benedict, as a result of his decision to resign, will become the first ex-pope in modern history to be buried by his replacement, who will preside over the ceremony.
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Among those looking to bid Benedict a fond farewell was Rachel Alomso, a Spanish Catholic living in Rome. She said: “Benedict was a very important pope who did many things, the fruit of which we might not realise for several years.
“He always took on his tasks with humility, even when he realised he had to resign because he didn’t have the strength to continue as pope.”
While taking communion during Thursday’s service, Pope Francis used Jesus’ final words during the homily, saying: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
He continued: “Holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to commend our brother into the hands of the Father.
“May those merciful hands find his lamp alight with the oil of the Gospel that he spread and testified to for his entire life.”
Francis, who appeared in a wheelchair and has been suffering from his own health concerns, detailed how Benedict’s supporters entrusted them to God, concluding: “We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years.”
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