VATICAN CITY – The unusual nature of Thursday’s funeral for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, presided over by his successor, Pope Francis, only raised curiosity about what route Francis will take to honor Benedict.
Will he give his predecessor the normal send-off he requested, while managing not to offend the conservative wing of the church, who wanted more for their late standard-bearer?
Francis opted for a household that reflected his own vision of the Catholic Church, but not everyone was satisfied with his vision. Michael Heisman, a biographer and friend of Benedict, called it “a bit standard”, and a theologian and author in Pennsylvania described it as “a kind of slap”.
“You could have given the same sermon to any cardinal, any bishop or even a butcher,” Mr. Heisman said.
For some American Catholics, the brevity and impersonality of the homily was seen as an affront from a pope who has gone on to undo many of Benedict’s signature preferences. Benedict was a guiding star for conservative Catholics in the United States, who saw in him a leading figure for a kind of doctrinal commitment and rigor that they saw as lacking in the church under Francis.
Francis respected Benedict for living the gospel “for the rest of his life”, citing his predecessor’s words repeatedly. Francis reflected the theologian’s core belief in placing Jesus at the center of life by focusing on how he placed himself in the hands of God.
Above all, people close to Francis said, the sermon focuses on a bishop’s, and the pope’s, main role as a clergyman — something Francis himself holds dear — over the rituals of the old church, the so-called bells and bells, Preferred by traditionalists.
“The faithful of God, gathered here, now accompany him and entrust his life,” Francis said of Benedict’s final passage.
“The Pope delivered a beautiful sermon on the mission of a priest in the closest imitation of Christ,” said Cardinal Michael Charney of Canada, a close adviser to Francis. He concluded by applying “wholeheartedly to his predecessor” this most beautiful spiritual portrait of a devoted clergyman, he said.
“So please don’t be discouraged for the lack of a eulogy or citation,” said Cardinal Charney. “It is for another time and place, not the Eucharist of Christian burial.”
“I thought it was a kind of slap on Benedict,” said Larry Chappe, a theologian and author who owns a small farm in Pennsylvania, describes himself as a “relatively conservative Catholic” and leads a circle where Benedict is revered as a noble. Hero of Faith.
Mr Chappe, who arrived in Rome on Monday, watched the funeral in St Peter’s Square with a crowd he described as calm and sad. As he reflected, he softened his view, noting that Francis was not known to be a “thunderous speaker” in any context.
Nevertheless, he remained frustrated by the lack of personal insight from the Pope, who had spoken warmly of his predecessor in other settings.
“I’ve heard better funeral sermons in parishes for regular people,” he said. “In my mind, it was almost as if Pope Francis had gone into his files and saw ‘Funeral Homily’ at the bottom of the file.”
others were harsher. In a blog post for The American Conservative, Eastern Orthodox and former Catholic writer Rod Dreher called the homestead “an act of disrespect to be discovered only as an exercise in bank contempt”.
“He could have preached this to his butler,” Mr. Dreher wrote.
To many, Francis’s approach seemed trivial in comparison to Benedict’s homily at Pope John Paul II’s funeral: an eloquent and full-on tribute to the life and legacy of a larger-than-life man who gave the Church a ran for more than quarter century.
And beyond the house, the service itself was shorter and simpler than a typical papal funeral, although the relative simplicity reflected Benedict’s wishes.
Michael Heinlein, a writer working on a biography of Cardinal Francis E. George, said, “There was a certain sense that the Mass was rushed, that it was bare bones.” He watched the funeral live from his home in Indiana, where proceedings began at 3:30 a.m.
Mr. Heinlein, who found the household underwhelming at this point, also said that he would return to read it and reflect on it more deeply later. “When I look at the text, I am sure I will see new things in it,” he said.
Mr. Heisman, the biographer, said, ,Benedict would have deserved the same class of funeral as John Paul II – I’m a little sad that the ceremony itself was lacking.
When they walked into the Vatican after the service, he said that Benedict “would have said at first that I only wanted a simple funeral,” which he deserved more.
But he allowed that the former pope may not have been hurt: “He was a most forgiving man.”
Jason Horowitz reported from Vatican City, and Ruth Graham from Dallas.
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