Francis and Benedict have endured a difficult relationship during their time at the Vatican, with observers claiming the more liberal views of Francis have been stifled by the traditional sensibilities of Benedict. In the past, many have felt that Francis would have pushed a more progressive agenda to make the church more accessible to modern day worshippers. The recent relaxing of confession laws as Italy is gripped by the coronavirus were seen by some as a move that showed Francis’ liberalism and many had hoped aspects of Catholicism such as celibacy and contraception could be next on his agenda.
But earlier this year, Francis was unable to help Catholic worshippers in the Amazon after refusing to allow married men to become priests, despite a worrying decline in the number of priests in the regions.
According to author Lynda Telford – writer of ‘Women of the Vatican: Female Power in a Male World’ – Benedict is the main reason behind this reluctance for change.
She fears that as a result, the Catholic church may not be able to modernise quickly enough to keep its worshippers engaged.
Pope Benedict was the head of the church between 2005 and 2013, before he stood down due to the mental stresses of the role and the deterioration of his health.
The move was unprecedented as he became the first Pope to resign since the 1400s, but his decision saw Pope Francis become the new leader of the Catholic church.
Many have argued that while he is still alive, Pope Benedict is able to exert an unusual amount of authority over those in the higher echelons of the church, which has led to Pope Francis being unable to fulfil his modernisation mandate.
And this is a major concern for Ms Telford.
She told Express.co.uk: “Pope Benedict – who has also had his own issues as he has been in the role – is very much a traditionalist who basically took the church back beyond the level of Paul VI.
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“Instead of allowing the changes that John Paul I desperately wanted to bring, Pope Benedict took the church back I fear, and now Pope Francis is desperately trying to get it back.
“You simply have to. Everything has to progress.
“And even now, Catholics in Italy and other Catholic countries are left with the dilemma of do we do exactly what the church tells us to or do we just calmly ignore the bits we just don’t like?
“Such as contraception – a lot of Catholics don’t like contraception but they have no alternative. Nobody can afford to have 12 kids these days.
“They have a dilemma to live with, which will eventually in a new generation lead people to leave the church unless these matters are dealt with and some easing of these matters are done I think.”
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It had been hoped that the liberal Pope Francis would back a move to allow married men to become priests, thus allowing more priests back into the fold, especially in the Amazon.
But to the surprise of many, Pope Francis – who according to the Washington Times in February had initially supported some relaxing of the rules – dismissed it, leading to much rejoicing from the traditionalist wing of the church.
Despite his decision, many in the Amazon regions believe Pope Francis had wanted to push ahead with the change but was unable to as the church “wasn’t mature enough”.
Atilio Battistu, a Franciscan friar in the Brazilian rainforest state of Para – which has around 600 Catholic communities – told the newspaper: “I had high hopes about this, even if it would not solve all the problems of the Amazon and of the Church.
“I do not believe Pope Francis was against this decision.
“It is not the moment yet. The church is not mature enough for this.”
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