The Return of Pope Benedict

This article from the Religion News Service chronicles the good health of 87 year old Pope Emeritus Benedict.  I think we will see him emerge from his monastery with a regularity if not a frequency. Here is my recent article on the significance of his appearance at the consistory last weekend.

When Pope Benedict XVI officially left the Vatican in a helicopter a year ago this week (Feb. 28), becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, many in his conservative fan base were aghast, even angry.

He has betrayed us, said those who thought Benedict’s papacy would be the final triumph of old-school Catholicism. He has undermined the papacy itself, they worried. Lightning even struck the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica hours after Benedict departed, surely a bad omen.

Rumors that he was suffering from a terminal illness were taken as gospel truth. After all, what else could explain Benedict’s unorthodox decision to abandon the Throne of St. Peter?

Well, it turns out the emeritus pope is doing just fine, thank you. Yes, he is nearly 87, slightly stooped and walking with a cane. But his overall health is pretty good and his spirits — and his wit, say friends who see him — are as strong as ever.

“His memory is fresh and his eyes are very bright and joyous,” the Rev. Stephan Otto Horn, head of a close-knit circle of Benedict’s former theology students, said after meeting Benedict in June.

Take all the fabricated high drama from his “ultra conservative fan base” with a big pinch of salt. Yes, Pope Benedict’s resignation was a shock, but the people who write this stuff don’t realize that most of his fan base aren’t drooling fanatic crypto Nazis. What they don’t know is that the wild eyed true Catholic extremists considered Pope Benedict to be a closet liberal. “Don’t you know” they whispered feverishly, “that all his dressing up in conservative clothes only makes him more of a wolf? Underneath the brocade and lace he’s friends with Hans Kung and all those other Freeemasons…”

So Benedict is back… at least from time to time. The reason I think he will be quietly present in public is because he is keen not only to show his support for Pope Francis, but because he is intent on stressing the continuity of the papacy. His appearance at the consistory was a way of saying that he not only is behind Francis, but that he sees Francis’ choice of cardinals as affirming and consolidating his own agenda and the far reaching agenda of the New Evangelization.

I expect he will be present at the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII on April 27 when two popes canonize two popes. This solidarity with Pope Francis will help to strengthen Francis’ appeal and keep on board some of those traditionalists who are still uneasy about Pope Francis. The pope handlers would do well to remember that Benedict’s appearance from time to time will also remind the world that he is not some sort of villain who we have all trundled off to the attic like some mad uncle.

They’ll see that while we love Pope Francis, we also still love Papa Benedict.