Benedict is Back!

A helicopter carrying Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI back to the Vatican. May 2, 2013. Photo by Gregorio Borgia

After his dramatic departure just over two months ago, the former Pope, Benedict XVI, returned to the Vatican today to take up residence in a small monastery inside Vatican walls.  On February 28th the newly resigned Ben XVI took off from the Vatican in a helicopter and whirred over the city as thousands of people gathered on Roman roof-tops and terraces, piazzas and streets to wave goodbye. The 85-year-old retired to Castel Gandolfo — the Pope’s summer residence on a lake outside of Rome — while he waited for renovations to be finished on the “Mater Ecclesiae” monastery.  He said he was going to live “hidden from the world.”

Following his departure were the heady days leading up to the Conclave and the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires to become the next Pope, Pope Francis. Benedict XVI was briefly seen looking suprisingly unsteady and weak in a video released by the Vatican on March 23rd after a visit by Pope Francis to Castel Gandolfo.  The video prompted questions about his declining health.

Today the Vatican released a photo of the two Popes who will be neighbors, and anyone familiar with Vatican etiquette cannot help but be struck by seeing these two men both dressed so similarly in white. It is uncanny.

Two Men in White. Pope Francis greets Pope Emeritus Benedict at the door to the "Mater Ecclesaie" Monastery on the X Pope's re-entry to the Vatican. Photo released by the Vatican newspaper "Osservatore Romano"

Unlike Benedict’s departure, which was broadcast live by Vatican TV around the world, today’s re-entry was a low-key affair with no TV coverage provided by the Vatican.  The photo above of the helicopter, taken by AP’s Gregorio Borgia, was from a location outside Vatican walls.

Benedict XVI’s ever loyal secretary Archbishop Georg Ganswein — who flew away with him, was also on the helicopter today for the re-entry.  If you look carefully, you can see Ganswein in the photo released by the Vatican peering around the edge of the doorway and smiling approvingly at the two Popes. Ganswein and the Memores Domini, the four consecrated women who cook and clean for the two men will join them in the Monastery. (See post on Georg Ganswein Padre Georg: The Vatican Heart-Throb)

A Vatican statement noted that the Pope will be — as he said himself on February 11th — serving the church by dedicating himself to prayer.  Apparently, he will also be playing the piano. Reportedly, his piano has been moved from the Papal apartments into the monastery.

The statement also noted that the Monastery was built over 20 years by Pope John Paul II and has housed various different orders of clositered nuns over the past two decades, among them Carmelites and Benedictines.  For the moment, no more nuns will be living in the monastery.

Interestingly, for the time being Pope Francis has chosen to live in the Santa Marta Residence and not in the Papal Apartments, so although there are now two Popes within the Vatican walls, neither one is living in the Apostolic Palace.

Benedict XVI was the first Pope to resign in 600 years, and he will be the first former Pope to continue living at the Vatican.  We will see how it works.

23 thoughts on “Benedict is Back!”

  1. Proximity to your predecessor/sucessor is a formula for difficulty. Your final enigmatic sentence hits the right tone.

    Keep the news flowing. I depend on it and the NYT.


    1. Trisha Thomas

      Thanks Dad – I will do my best. One key issue that I mentioned in this post, but I would like to investigate more, is why Pope Francis continues to live in the Santa Marta Residence — basically a hotel for people visiting the Vatican — rather than moving into the Papal apartment. I would think with Ben 16 back, Francis might want to take on all the trappings of the papacy, including the apartment. However, he certainly doesn’t seem like an insecure person who needs “trappings of power” to feel secure in his job. Is he concerned about being isolated in the Apostolic Palace? Does he prefer to be served by a hotel staff rather than a potentially snooping personal butler? Does he somehow feel safer in the Santa Marta? Or is it just a simple act of humility that he prefers a more humble abode? I don’t know if I will be able to find answers to these questions, but I am going to try.

  2. Hi Trisha,

    This is indeed eerie to see the two of them. The Pope looks less frail than when I last saw him. Each time I see Pope Francis I am struck by how very kind and how vibrant he appears. I like that.

    P.S. I am pleased to see that Padre Georg is still in the picture, so to speak. I wonder, though if there is envy or jealousy among the ranks for the spotlight being so often focused on Padre Georg? I imagine that at least a few of his colleagues would feel, while not being jealous or envious, that it is somehow unseemly for a priest to be on the cover of a magazine. Or has thinking changed and do they welcome the “peek inside?”

    1. Trisha Thomas

      You said it Adri, Padre Georg is definitely still in the picture. He is the key figure in the two-pope situation, living with one Pope and serving another. I imagine there is a lot of jealousy of Padre Georg inside the Vatican. He’s good-looking, a media darling, and now has so much power.

      1. Maybe he will read for Ridley. Hey, maybe he is the model for the show! Ponder that one. Who would play him??? I think Padre Georg’s people need to take a meeting with Ridley’s people…

        1. Trisha Thomas

          Adri — I love your sense of humor. Perhaps Georg is the inspiration for the Ridley Scott show. Now, hmmm, who could play him? We need another Richard Chamberlain type (remember “The Thorn Birds”). Perhaps a Ralph Fiennes — remember him from “The English Patient”. No one else is coming to mind. I can think of a bunch of good actors to play Cardinals — how about Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Morgan Freeman. Who do you think could play Georg?

          1. Trisha Thomas

            Ok, it’s agreed, Christoph Waltz will play Georg!!! Can you tell Ridley what we’ve decided?

  3. I find it ironic that Benedict XVI arrives 21st Century style in a helicopter but pushed for medieval values. Why are women still expected to be servants with respect to priests?
    As a former Catholic, the hierarchy of the church aggravates me to no end but at least I don’t have to be worried about a Fatwa being leveled at me for having these views!

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Hi Lega — I also was surprised they brought Benedict back in a helicopter. The Vatican seemed to want to minimize media attention so I was guessing they would quietly bring him back in a car when no one was expecting it. As far as the women serving the X Pope — I agree, I have a hard time with that. I also think it is a bit unfair that a monastery that was set up for cloistered nuns to pray inside the Vatican has now been handed over to the former Pope. I agree with one Cardinal who told me (and didn’t want to be quoted) that he thought it would be more appropriate if Benedict went off to a Monastery in Bavaria, far from the action at the Vatican. There are just too many questions marks with a Pope and an X Pope living inside Vatican walls. I will say that Pope Francis is continuing to live in the Santa Marta Residence, the hotel-like structure inside the Vatican which houses visiting Cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns and others — and there he is served by the regular staff of men and women.

  4. I was thinking the same thing as Adri about Padre Georg. It does make you wonder if he will have conflicts in serving both men. But it’s great to see them all smiling and looking sincerely happy.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Yes, the photo is nice, despite being so strange. Padre Georg’s approving smile is tender. However, he is definitely at the center of a big conflict. For the moment Pope Francis clearly thinks he can handle it– he is riding a huge wave of popularity with the public — but he has lots of problems to deal with inside the Vatican and he may decide he doesn’t want to have Archbishop Ganswein serving in a position so close to him during the day and then going back to Ben XVI at night.

        1. Trisha Thomas

          Indeed. I wonder how long Pope Francis will put up with this situation. However, I am not sure how long it will last. It appears that Pope Benedict XVI’s health is declining quickly.

  5. Philip Hurst

    I wonder if you’re worrying a little too much about the “two popes” situation. I find it hard to believe that Benedict XVI would try to interfere with his successor, either knowingly or unwittingly. Above all, Benedict is a man of absolute integrity, and if he says that he wants no role in the running, or the policy, of the Church, then we should be prepared to believe him. More delicate is the position of Archbishop Giorgio, as you point out, but he, and the new pope, need to work out what his role is to be. I don’t see that an all-but-cloistered pope emeritus needs a personal secretary of archiepiscopal rank; Pope Benedict needs only a friendly and supportive monsignor to look after him, thus freeing up Archbishop Giorgio to devote himself full-time to Pope Francis, if His Argentine Holiness wants him to continue as Personal Secretary and Prefect of the Papal Household located pro tem (and somewhat absurdly) in a hotel for passing prelates.

    As for your prelatical contact who says sneeringly that Benedict should be banished to a Bavarian monastery, I suggest that your impertinent prelate be so banished until he learns some respect.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Hello Philip — I love when you comment because you are clearly so knowledgeable about things at the Vatican and often take events/issues from a slightly different perspective from mine. This is good because I like debate and need to be pushed to see all sides of these questions. I basically agree with you that Benedict is not a man who would be prone to interfering. We should believe him when he says he wants to stay “hidden from the world”. On the other hand, why did he take the helicopter back to the Vatican? (I don’t think it would have been a difficult security question to bring him back in an unmarked car), Why does he need to wear white? (It is a small issue, but at the Vatican white is reserved for the Pope and visiting queens), Why allow the photo together at the doorway (although presumably he did not decide that).
      As far as the Pope living in a monastery in Bavaria is concerned, it was a prominent Cardinal who said that to me a few days after Benedict XVI announced his resignation. I think he was expressing the opinion of more than one Cardinal at that time. Since then he has refused to repeat that comment– I don’t know if he has changed his mind or just doesn’t want to create controversy.
      Perhaps I am worrying a little too much about the “two popes” situation, but this is the first time in history that it has happened, so I think it is worth analyzing and contemplating.

  6. Barbara Landi

    Consecrated women?? I see I am not the only one wondering what this means & who they are…LOL

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Barbara — I can tell that you and I would never make it as consecrated women. They are women who are not nuns but nevertheless have chosen to dedicate their lives to God and have made a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience. The four Memores Domini (consecrated women) who live and serve Benedict XVI and Archbishop Georg belong to the Catholic group Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation). Don’t get mixed up by the word “liberation”. The group has nothing to do with “liberation theology” or women’s liberation. It is a fairly conservative Catholic movement.

  7. Totally out of topic, but do you think Pope Francis will ever move into the Apostolic Palace? He seems to be quite comfortable at Santa Marta Residence.

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Pauline – feel free to go out of topic whenever you want. But actually as far as the Apostolic Palace is concerned, you are right on topic. I don’t have an answer though. I agree with you that Pope Francis is clearly comfortable at the Santa Marta Residence and seems to enjoy the camraderie of having lots of people around. I think he is the kind of person that doesn’t like the trappings of power attached to the Papacy — the Papal Apartment for one, but also the fancy outfits. But I think there is also more too it. Perhaps he is concerned about becoming too isolated in the Papal Apartments, perhaps he is concerned about being left alone with a staff that is not loyal — just look at what happened with Benedict and the butler. I am have no answers to these questions but a lot of people are wondering.
      There is also another Vatican topic that I need to write about and that is NUNS. The Pope met with 800 nuns yesterday and made some interesting comments saying they should not be “old maids”. As soon as I come up for air, I need to do a post on the Vatican and relations with nuns around the world.

  8. Hi T! (It’s your vestal virgin gal) :-) The best news – at least for tourists – might be that now that ex-pope ‘ben’s’ house is set up, the vatican garden tours, which had been suspended feb 25, are running again!

    1. Trisha Thomas

      Hi Laura — Great to hear from you and I am glad those garden tours are on again. Can tourists see the Ben XVI Monastery when they are on the Garden Tour?

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