Pope Benedict’s final vow to successor saw Francis snubbed as Vatican rift deepened

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Benedict shocked the Catholic world by becoming the first living Pope to stand down in more than 600 years, paving the way for Francis to take over and attempt to inject a more liberal approach to the church. Throughout Francis’ tenure observers have noted the restrictions he has faced, particularly the fierce backlash from traditionalists such as Benedict in the higher echelons of the Vatican. Consistently, it appears, Francis has been unable to attempt to modernise the church, aiming to bring Catholicism into the 21st century through softening its stance on aspects such as abortion and homosexuality.

Many critics, such as author Lynda Telford, have claimed that this is because Benedict has continued to exert his influence over the church, stifling Francis and his less-conservative agenda.

But this form of barrier that the likes of Ms Telford say Benedict has installed, is in direct contrast to the impassioned plea he made when he stood down as pontiff seven years ago.

At the time, he vowed to offer his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to whoever was chosen to replace him, before Argentinian Francis took the reins, thus becoming the first Pope from the Americas, and first from outside Europe since the eighth century.

In his farewell speech, Benedict thanked his supporters for their friendship, adding: “Tonight I’ll no longer be a pontiff. I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth.

“Let’s go forward with God for the good of the Church and the world.”

The emotional farewell continued as Benedict’s last tweet as pontiff said: “May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”

Pope Benedict was the head of the church between 2005 and 2013, before he stood down due to the mental stresses of the role and the deterioration of his health.

However, he has continued to live within the Vatican, and Ms Telford, writer of Women of the Vatican – Female Power in a Male World, told Express.co.uk that since then Benedict has been “doing his absolute best to sabotage all the reforms that Francis is trying to bring in”.

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She added: “Benedict has no right to interfere.

“Putting him under the same roof as Francis, so he’s never free of him, is appalling.”

One example of the traditionalist backlash seemingly came as a result of Francis’ decision to not back a move that allowed married men to become priests.

Liberals had hoped Francis would back a move, as in the Amazon regions of the church the number of priests had severely decreased as a result of the non-marriage rule.

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And although initially supporting it, Francis would later dismiss it, and some within the church across the region felt it was because the church “wasn’t mature enough”.

Earlier this year, Atilio Battistu, a Franciscan friar in the Brazilian rainforest state of Para – which has around 600 Catholic communities – told the Washington Times: “I had high hopes about this, even if it would not solve all the problems of the Amazon and of the Church.

“I do not believe Pope Francis was against this decision.

“It is not the moment yet. The church is not mature enough for this.”

Although reports of a rift between Francis and Benedict continue to dominate discussions regarding the Vatican, Benedict attempted to smooth tensions by claiming his relationship with his successor had “not only endured but grown”.

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