CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy —
All of which led to enormous speculation about what these two men in white might have said to one another. That the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was second only to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave that elected Ratzinger pope — considered then to be the “anti-Ratzinger” candidate — only added to the popular imagination about what two men with such radically different styles, backgrounds and priorities might have chatted about over lunch.
Perhaps during their primo, or pasta course, they discussed the big issues facing the church: the rise of secularism in the world, the drop in priestly vocations in Europe, the competition that the Catholic Church faces in Latin America and Africa from evangelical Pentecostal movements.
During their secondo, or second course of meat or fish, they may have discussed more pressing issues about Francis’ new job: Benedict left a host of unfinished business on Francis’ plate, including the outcome of a top-secret investigation into the leaks of papal documents last year that exposed corruption and mismanagement in the Vatican administration. Francis might have wanted to sound Benedict out on his ideas for management changes in the Holy See administration, a priority given the dysfunctional government he has inherited.
Benedict’s resignation — and his choices about his future — have raised the not-insignificant question of how the Catholic Church will deal with the novel situation of having one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side.
Before Benedict announced his decision to be known as “emeritus pope” and “Your Holiness,” one of the Vatican’s leading canon lawyers, the Jesuit Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, penned an article suggesting that such a title would be inappropriate for Benedict since in renouncing the papacy he had “lost all the power of primacy” conferred on him by his election. The Vatican had originally said Benedict would likely be known as “emeritus bishop of Rome” precisely to avoid confusion with the new pope.