Pope Francis in revolutionary plot to ‘derail Benedict’s enduring quest for Vatican power’

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With fears regarding Francis’ health resurfacing after a series of postponed appearances this month, Vatican insiders have raised the alarm that a new Pope could be needed should he retire or die. Protocol states that when a reigning Pope passes away, a new pontiff is selected by those inside the College of Cardinals, yet Pope Benedict ripped up the rule book to stand down in 2013. His decision rocked the Catholic world, and saw him become the first living Pope since the 1400s to retire from the role, and has since maintained his senior position within the church.

With Benedict’s presence undiminished, and his influence over the traditionalist arm of the Vatican, some – including author Lynda Telford – claim he has stifled the liberal agenda Francis has built during his nine years in charge.

Yet, in a cunning ploy to ensure his legacy remains in tact when his time as pontiff ends, Francis carried out “the most revolutionary move during his reign in terms of church governance”.

Father Thomas Reese, an American priest, detailed how Francis was “doing everything possible to make sure his legacy is continued by ensuring his successor is someone who reflects his views”.

Since 2016, when Father Reese made his comments in a column for the National Catholic Reporter, Francis has begun a scheme to fill the College of Cardinals with like-minded officials.

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The aim is to cram the College with enough pro-Francis supporters that when it comes to selecting the next pontiff, the Catholic church rebuild that the 84-year-old started will continue.

Father Reese said that if Francis had “simply promoted the holdovers of John Paul and Benedict” the preservation of his life’s works would “probably not be a long one”.

He added: “I am happy that he is increasing the odds that the next Pope will be like him, and all my progressive friends are certainly pleased with these appointments.

“But then I had to be honest with myself by asking the question, ‘How would I have reacted if Pope John Paul or Pope Benedict had done the same thing?’

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“Frankly, I would have been outraged. Progressives would have seen it as another example of papal centralisation and of the old guard clinging to power.”

But the priest also outlined how this power battle could turn against Francis, and back in favour of Benedict, and his loyal army of followers.

Father Reese said that if the conclave was the opposite of 2013’s – when Francis was selected – and it “makes a mistake and elects someone the cardinals think is progressive or moderate” but is reactionary, the liberals could be in trouble.

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He concluded: “He will then be able to use the Francis precedent to fill the College of Cardinals with reactionaries.”

Among those concerned of a traditionalist uprising within the Vatican include Ms Telford, the author of Women in the Vatican – Female Power in a Male World.

She was unsure who would take over but was adamant that for the Catholic church to survive a Francis-type must be installed as its next head.

Ms Telford, speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, said the only way it could continue was to ensure more people felt welcomed into Catholicism, which means aspects such as celibacy, homophobia and abortion needed to be removed from its teachings.

She said: “At a time when I think the church needs to change, it is losing the faithful in many countries now, it needs desperately to change and accept the differences in the change of position of women throughout the world.

“I’m sure Pope Francis is aware of this and he’s also extremely popular with the people.”

Although some share Ms Telford’s view, a Catholic Culture report two years ago argued that due to Francis’ move, his profile will live on.

In 2019, he continued his plot by naming 13 new College of Cardinal members, which gave him the majority in the house.

According to Father Adolfo Nicolas, a former leader of the Jesuit order, Francis wanted to remain as pontiff until “the changes he made were irreversible”.

The speculation of Francis’ future was sparked after he postponed three engagements last weekend as his sciatica struggles continued.

It is hoped he will still be able to carry out March’s historic visit to Iraq, where he will become the first Pope to take a trip to the Middle Eastern country.

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