I was charmed and fascinated to see Hans Kung, Pope Benedict’s one-time collaborator during Vatican II and later his nemesis (or vice versa), jumping in to critique Benedict’s transition out of the papacy.
Swiss theologian Hans Kueng, Benedict’s one-time colleague-turned-critic, went further: “With Benedict XVI, there is a risk of a shadow pope who has abdicated but can still indirectly exert influence,” he told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine last week.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday that Benedict himself decided on his name and wardrobe in consultation with others, settling on “Your Holiness Benedict XVI” and either “emeritus pope” or “emeritus Roman pontiff.”
Lombardi said he didn’t know why Benedict had decided to drop his other main title: bishop of Rome.
In the two weeks since Benedict’s resignation announcement, Vatican officials had suggested that Benedict would likely resume wearing the traditional black garb of a cleric and would use the title “emeritus bishop of Rome” to avoid creating confusion with the future pope.
Adding to the concern is that Benedict’s trusted secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, will be serving both pontiffs — living with Benedict at the monastery being converted for him inside Vatican grounds while keeping his day job as prefect of the new pope’s household.
Asked about the potential for conflict, Lombardi was defensive, saying the decisions had been clearly reasoned and were likely chosen for the sake of simplicity.
“I believe it was well thought out,” he said.
Benedict himself has made clear he is retiring to a lifetime of prayer and meditation “hidden from the world.” However, he still will be very present in the tiny Vatican city-state, where his new home is right next door to the Vatican Radio transmission tower and has a lovely view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Kueng said it was a mistake for Gaenswein to serve both men and for Benedict to remain so close to the center of action.
“No priest likes it if his predecessor sits next to the rectory and watches everything he does,” Kueng was quoted as saying in Der Spiegel. “And even for the bishop of Rome, it is not pleasant if his predecessor constantly has an eye on him.”
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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.