Pope Francis to Predecessor: “We’re Brothers”

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 23 2013 3:52 PM

Pope Francis to Predecessor: “We’re Brothers”

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Recently elected Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, pray together at the papal summer residence Castel Gandolfo

Photo by Servizio Fotografico L'Osservatore Romano via Getty Images

When Pope Francis got into the papal helicopter to travel to Castel Gandolfo and have lunch with his predecessor, pope emeritus Benedict XVI, it was, at the very least, an extremely rare sight. The last time a similar event would have even been able to take place was in 1294. Francis was sure to highlight his humble nature again, insisting on showing deference to his predecessor even as Benedict took pains to signal he knew he was no longer in charge, reports the Associated Press. Even as the Vatican insisted on highlighting how everything went smoothly, the photograph of the two men dressed in nearly identical white, including white skull caps, embracing, highlights the unprecedented nature of this unorthodox situation that could very well prove to be trouble for Francis in the future.

When the pope and former pope went to pray in the chapel together, Benedict pointed Francis to the papal kneeler in the front, but Francis refused. "We are brothers, we pray together," Francis said, according to the official account from the Vatican, which refused to release any details about what the two discussed. But it seems very likely some of the conversation at least centered around problems in the Vatican considering that Benedict left a secret report for Francis on the “Vatileaks” scandal before resigning, points out Reuters.

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The amount of attention still lavished on Benedict, who had vowed to live out the rest of his days “hidden from the world,” helps explain why experts think it is a good idea that soon the former pope will move into a residence at the Vatican that is now being renovated, notes the New York Times. If he had been elsewhere it’s possible that a sort of shadow papacy would emerge, particularly if Francis were to take controversial decisions that would anger the Church’s conservative wing. “You couldn’t have the pope in a German convent where he could become a pole of attraction for those faithful reluctant to accept his resignation,” an expert said.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.