Francis turns 10 as pope, conservatives face post-Benedict XVI era

Pope Francis marks the 10th anniversary of his election on March 13, having outlasted the conservative opposition that failed to topple him and is now at a crossroads, seeking a new direction after the deaths of two of its leading figures.

The conservative-progressive divide has been a recurring theme over the past decade, ever since Francis first appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in 2013 wearing a simple white cassock, eschewing the red and gold coverings worn for centuries.

Conservative cardinals and archbishops have accused Francis of sowing confusion by weakening rules on issues such as homosexuality and remarriage after divorce, while focusing excessively on problems such as climate change and economic inequality.

But developments have left the conservative movement disoriented and, some experts say, aimless.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013 and became a beacon for conservatives yearning for a return to a more traditional Church, died on Dec. 31 at the age of 95.

“The conservative world lacks a unifying vision, something that Benedict XVI provided,” said Sandro Magister, a veteran conservative author, journalist and blogger who has been critical of Francis.

“He (Benedict) has no real heir, no one capable of inheriting his legacy in a substantial way,” Magister declared.

A senior Vatican official, one of three high-ranking prelates who spoke on condition of anonymity, said many conservatives looked to Benedict “as a sense of security”, although in the official’s view the pope emeritus had not sought that role. .

Conservatives also mourned the sudden death in January of 81-year-old Australian Cardinal George Pell, who many believed would succeed Benedict XVI as a conservative figurehead.

“In the last years of his life, Pell was working to build a unifying network bringing together conservatives and moderates alike. He wanted them to reflect on the central questions of the Church looking at the choice of Francis’ successor,” Magister said.

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