Church Lays Benedict to Rest, if Not Its Divisions

VATICAN CITY — The Roman Catholic Church entombed Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Thursday outside fog-shrouded St. Peter’s Basilica with an extraordinary funeral presided over by his own successor, Francis, a final twist to end a strange era in the world. modern church in which two popes, one resigned and one in power, one conservative and one liberal, coexisted in the minuscule confines of the Vatican.

“Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom,” Francis said in his homily, referring to Jesus’ role as husband of the church, “may your joy be complete when you hear his voice, now and always!”

It was Francis’ only explicit mention of Benedict XVI, who died on Saturday at age 95, in a homily immediately dismissed as too modest by his heartbroken supporters who said he had failed to articulate or celebrate the legacy of a pope who had become a touchstone for conservatives in the United States. church.

The unprecedented moment of a more reform-minded pope presiding over the final farewell to a conservative icon was the coda to a strange chapter in church history. The strangeness only heightened curiosity about how the funeral would unfold and how Francis would navigate the path between honoring Benedict’s request for a simple farewell and not offending the church’s conservative wing, which wanted much more for its late standard-bearer.

Francis opted for a homily that reflected his own vision of the church and paid tribute to Benedict XVI by repeatedly quoting his predecessor’s words. Francis reflected the theologian’s core belief in putting Jesus at the center of life by meditating on how Jesus placed himself in God’s hands.

Above all, Francis’s close aides said, the homily focused on the central role of the pope and Benedict XVI as pastor, something Francis himself cherishes and stands above ancient church rituals, so-called smells and bells, adored by traditionalists.

“The faithful people of God, gathered here, now accompanies him and entrusts him with the life of the one who was their shepherd,” Francis said.

A close adviser to Francis, Cardinal Michael Czerny of Canada, said: “The Holy Father delivered a beautiful homily reflecting on the mission of a pastor, in the closest imitation of Christ.” The Pope, he said, concluded “this beautiful spiritual portrait” of a devoted pastor by applying it “wholeheartedly to his predecessor.”

“So please do not be disappointed by the lack of praise or eulogy,” Cardinal Czerny said. “That is for another time and place, not a Christian burial Eucharist.”

Not everyone was pleased with Francis’s approach, which Benedict’s supporters said paled in comparison to Benedict’s own homily at John Paul II’s funeral before he was elected pope, an eloquent, full-throated ode to the life and legacy of an elder. unsurpassed figure who led the church for more than a quarter of a century.

Benedict would have deserved the same funeral status as John Paul II,” Michael Hesemann, a biographer and friend of Benedict’s, said as he entered the Vatican after the service. “I am a little sad because there was a shortage in the ceremony itself, in the homily and so on. The homily was a bit standard. You could have given the same homily to anyone: any cardinal, any bishop, or even the butcher next door.”

He said that while Benedict “would have been the first to say, ‘I just want a simple funeral,’” he deserved more. But Benedict would not have been hurt, she said. “He was the most forgiving person,” Hesemann said.

In some ways, the ceremony was the latest awkward situation created by Benedict XVI, who kept the title of pope and continued to wear his white robes, long after he retired in 2013. His resignation was the first by a pope in six centuries, a startling act in terms of legacy and precedent, and dwarfed the rest of Benedict’s often crisis-ridden pontificate.

But the funeral, though devoid of papal pomp, was also much more than a memorial to a prominent cardinal.

The Sistine Chapel Choir sang hymns. The smoke from the incense mixed with the mist. The pages of an open book of the Gospels blew in the wind over the simple cypress coffin that contained his remains.

Cardinals dressed in special red robes for the burial of a high priest surrounded the coffin, which lay on a large, ornate rug below the steps of the basilica. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, who celebrated the Requiem Mass, sprinkled the coffin with holy water.

The coffin contained not only Benedict’s remains, but also various objects, including commemorative medals and coins struck during his papacy, which spanned from 2005 to 2013. A short text describing his pontificate was sealed inside a metal cylinder and placed with his body together with episcopal canopies. , the white woolen garment worn around the neck and symbolizing the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of a bishop.

The crowd numbered in the tens of thousands, though it failed to completely fill St. Peter’s Square and did not flow onto the wide Via della Conciliazione as it did when Pope John Paul II, for whom Benedict served a quarter century as head of church. Doctrinal guardian, he died in 2005. John Paul’s funeral drew so many worshipers that the population of Rome nearly doubled. Heads of state or government from more than 70 countries attended. Royalty and leaders of other major religions took seats of honor.

For the retired Pope, only two official delegations participated in the ceremony. The Italian delegation was led by President Sergio Mattarella. The delegation from Benedict XVI’s native Germany was headed by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Other countries participated in their private capacity, including the monarchs of Spain and Belgium, and the presidents of Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Hungary, Togo, and San Marino, along with the prime ministers of many other nations. President Biden, who is Catholic, did not attend but sent the ambassador to the Holy See, Joe Donnelly.

In the front rows and at the altar, 125 cardinals prayed in their red vestments and caps. There are currently 224 cardinals in the College of Cardinals who will elect Francis’ successor. Benedict named 64 of these. His predecessor, John Paul II, named 49, while Francis has named 111 cardinals, a number that is expected to grow while he remains in office, raising the likelihood that a choice-packed conclave will select, when Francis dies or resigns. , someone in charge. mold to continue his agenda of reforming and opening the church.

That made the funeral especially poignant for conservatives who regarded Benedict as a guiding light, marking the unmistakable end of his role as leader.

Among the cardinals sitting in the front rows were prelates who were stripped of their positions and influence after Francis took office.

There was Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, whom Benedict appointed as his replacement as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and whom Francis later fired.

Near him sat Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, an often-scandalous Vatican secretary of state whom Francis also replaced.

Standing at the altar was Cardinal Robert Sarah, 77, of Guinea, a hero to Vatican traditionalists and a leading candidate to take Benedict’s place. In 2014, Francis chose Cardinal Sarah to head the Vatican’s department with liturgical oversight, but then quickly isolated him and surrounded him with papal allies. The Pope finally accepted his resignation, in 2021.

In the front row was Benedict’s closest aide and secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who has long caused consternation among Francis supporters who suspect him of trying to sabotage the current pope.

During the highly choreographed Mass, none of the conservative prelates showed any dissatisfaction, but in the broader traditionalist world, it was clear that not everyone liked the reduced service.

“It is simply painful that this great and holy man, Joseph Ratzinger, has been handed over to the centuries with such repulsive disrespect by his successor,” wrote Rod Dreher, a far-right critic of Francis and staunch traditionalist who has abandoned the church, he wrote on Twitter. “Naked contempt, on a world stage.”

Benedict’s admirers in the square ignored instructions in several languages ​​to “refrain from hoisting banners or hoisting flags” and held up a large white sheet reading “Santo Subito,” “Holiness Now.”

It was a common refrain during John Paul II’s funeral that put the Polish pope on the fast track to sainthood, much to the chagrin of many critics who blamed him for allowing clergy sexual abuse to escalate during his long pontificate. Benedict has a much more complex legacy on the subject, as he took significant steps to force the church to face the scourge, expelling hundreds of abusive priests, but he also failed to hold bishops accountable for protecting abusers.

Benedict may never provoke the same public calls to sainthood as his predecessor, but many Catholics deeply regret it.

“I have pain as if I had lost my own father,” Maria Lulic, a 37-year-old Polish shop assistant, said in the square. “As a Pole, I loved John Paul II, obviously, but Benedict was my spiritual guide, my moral compass.”

“Benedict was a model for me long before he became pope,” said the Rev. Joseph Adusei-Poku, a long-serving Ghanaian priest. “And he then he was humble enough to retire.”

That resignation imbued the entire ceremony with an otherworldly atmosphere.

“A Pope presided over the funeral of another Pope!” said a French bishop, Jean-Yves Riocreux. Without a conclave to follow the funeral and choose a successor, he pointed out, “the cardinals who were all there, come back, they have nothing to do.”

At the end of the Mass, the black-robed pallbearers carried the coffin into St. Peter’s Basilica and stopped before Francis, who stood and placed his hand on it, closing his eyes for a final prayer and blessing.

Benedict’s coffin was then placed inside a zinc coffin and then inside a wooden box. In accordance with Benedict’s wishes, he was entombed where his mentor, John Paul II, had been, before the Vatican moved him upstairs to St. Peter’s Basilica after his beatification, the penultimate step before the holiness.

The emeritus title that will likely define Benedict throughout history, marking a strange decade in church history and sowing tension in a polarized Vatican, followed him to the end.

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis offered a “final farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict,” entrusting him to “God, our merciful and loving Father.”

Isabel Povoledo Gaia Pianigiani emma bubola contributed reporting from Rome.