The end of the two-pope era

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Former Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died on New Year's eve in a monastery at Vatican City. Lundagård’s Kuzey Yanartas was in Rome for his funeral.

Former Pope Benedict XVI passed away on 31 December 2022, and his funeral was carried out on 5 January 2023 in St. Peter’s Basilica“That is the place where the Pope’s service takes place every Wednesday and Sunday. And underneath the deceased popes are buried” says Annabel Bussoletti, a Catholic student who grew up in Rome. The Vatican City walls can be seen in the background of the basilica as we walk towards the funeral area.

Annabel Bussoletti studies
English language and literature.
Photo: Kuzey Yanartas

The streets leading to the Vatican City are crowded with all kinds of people, there are first responders, the press, tourists, and locals. However, the most eye-catching of them all are the members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church who have travelled here from all around the world. It is a little absurd to see so many priests and nuns casually strolling around the city, it feels like the whole city turned into a catholic school. Even though the streets of the city are packed with people, there is an uncanny silence, which reminds me of the time I was in Edinburgh for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. 

This happens to be the second time I travel to a country on the funeral day of one of its leaders. Just like Queen Elizabeth II and probably even more so, Pope Benedict XVI had an immeasurable global influence until his resignation in 2013. “​​I have come to the certain knowledge that my strength, due to the burdens of age, is no longer suitable for properly administering the Petrine office”, the then-pope declared in his resignation speech, which made him the first pope to resign in the last 598 years. “I remember being in school when the news about the Pope’s resignation came out and it was a huge deal”, says Annabel. 

The resignation would start the era of “the two popes”. Even after his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI would continue to write books and give interviews, remaining a symbolic leader for the conservative Catholics. Pope Benedict XVI became known as “Cardinal No” due to his efforts of preventing the liberation theology movement. Although the current, more liberal, Pope Francis described Pope Benedict XVI as a “grandfatherly” figure, he was more than a mentor, he was a powerful and polarizing voice within the Catholic Church. Their most obvious and recent disagreement came to the surface in 2020, when a book was published promoting priest celibacy co-written by Pope Benedict XVI as opposed to the current efforts of easing the rule, in special circumstances, by Pope Francis.

Photo: Kuzey Yanartas

The most major controversy in the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI remains as the allegations of him shielding priests who have sexually abused children. CNN reports that Pope Benedict XVI had, as archbishop, been informed of four cases of sexual abuse involving minors, including two that had taken place while he was in office but failed to act. 

However, CNN also reports that during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican defrocked 848 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned another 2,572 with lesser penalties. And he was the first pope to meet with victims of sexual abuse and publicly apologize during a trip to the US in 2008. He was also the first pope to go “green” by installing solar panels on the roof of Vatican City. 

In the end, Benedict’s papacy was a papacy of firsts, although with a tangled resume. “He liked cats, when he would take walks in Rome, cats would follow him around and sometimes into the Vatican City”, says Annabel as we make our way out of St. Peter’s Square and join the daily rush of Rome.