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Francis shares details of relationship with Benedict XVI

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OSSERVATORE ROMANO / AFP

Le pape François et le pape émérite Benoît XVI, le 23 décembre 2013.

I.Media - published on 04/02/24

In a new book-interview, Pope Francis talks about his good relationship with the Pope Emeritus and sometimes difficult relationship with Benedict's entourage.

“A brother,” “a child prodigy of theology,” “a humble man”: Pope Francis pays vibrant tribute to his predecessor in a book-interview with Spanish Vaticanist Javier Martínez-Brocal. The volume is being released in Spanish by Planeta Editions on April 3 under the title El Sucesor — ”The Successor.”

In the interview, the Pope reiterates his admiration for his predecessor, but also expresses his views on a number of sensitive issues, such as the “Vatileaks” affair and the tensions surrounding the end of the German Pope’s life.

I.MEDIA takes a look at 10 key passages from this interview, which took place in several stages between July 2023 and January 2024.

2005 Conclave: Ratzinger, Cardinal Bergoglio’s candidate

In an extract already made public on March 31 by the daily ABC, Francis reveals that in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was his candidate. “He was the only one who could be pope at that time. After the revolution of John Paul II, who had been a dynamic pontiff, very active, with initiative, who traveled, what was needed was a pope who could maintain a healthy balance, a transitional pope,” explains Pope Francis.

The Argentine Pontiff was irritated with being instrumentalized by a group of cardinals who were pushing his candidacy in order to form a blocking minority against the German cardinal. “If they had elected someone like me, who makes a lot of mess, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything,” admits Francis. 

Pope Francis’ admiration for his predecessor’s firmness in the face of abuse

The Pope expresses his admiration for the theological work of Cardinal Ratzinger, and for his resolute action against sexual abuse, particularly in the case of Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe. Pope Francis explains:

In addition to the issue of the Legionaries of Christ, he dealt with the male branch of a French religious congregation, the Communauté Saint-Jean. He thought of dissolving it, since the founder spoke of the glory of the Resurrection, of the risen flesh, and with this he led the nuns to bed … This was also a theme of corruption and abuse of power.

Cardinal Bergoglio’s respect

Benedict XVI was “a delicate man, but he wasn’t weak, he was strong,” remembers Francis. He also mentioned, however, that he “suffered” due to members of Benedict XVI’s entourage who hindered him in his activities.

He recounts how he, together with a group of Latin American cardinals, succeeded in inviting Benedict to the Aparecida meeting in 2007, against the advice of the Roman Curia. He also explains that Benedict XVI’s decision to keep him on as Archbishop of Buenos Aires after his 75th birthday, on December 17, 2011, was an important mark of personal trust, even though some Curia officials wanted to speed up his departure.

“In the Curia, there were some people who were against me in a somewhat exaggerated way. For example, in the Congregation for Bishops (…). They even had the name of the new archbishop of Buenos Aires who was to replace me,” reveals Pope Francis, who avoids mentioning the causes of this mistrust.

Files handed over at Castel Gandolfo

On the evening of the day of his election, the Pope had some difficulty talking on the phone with his predecessor. “Nobody answered the phone because they were watching television and didn’t want to be disturbed,” recalls Francis, who went to meet Benedict XVI 10 days later at Castel Gandolfo.

He explains that the Pope Emeritus gave him a report by three cardinals on the Vatileaks affair, revealing that one of the victims of the actors in this maneuver was “the now Cardinal Pietro Parolin, because they wanted to avoid him being Secretary of State.” The Pope Emeritus wanted to “explain to him personally” the results of this investigation, and gave him some suggestions for appointments to clean up the Curia.

A close relationship at the start of the pontificate

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The Pope also looks back on the early days of the two men living near each other in the Vatican after Benedict XVI returned to the Vatican in May 2013. “This is a man who, at first, would come here to eat with me. He would come here or I would go to the monastery to eat with him. His cook made juicy steaks. With too much pepper, but very good,” joked the Argentine Pontiff. He points out that during the first consistories of his own pontificate, Benedict XVI was present. “He came to the ceremonies. But then, slowly, he became ill and lived in an enclosed space, and could no longer leave his residence.”

Archbishop Gänswein

In some passages of the book, Pope Francis suggests that Benedict XVI was hindered in his relationships by his secretary, Archbishop Gänswein. Francis recounts this anecdote:

The pope was a close friend of his former secretary, Josef Clemens. On certain Sundays, at around five o’clock in the afternoon, he would go to Clemens’s house, where [the former secretary] would have dinner prepared for him…. They say he’s a great cook. There, the two of them would chat, have dinner together and so on. By 8 pm, the get-together was over and Benedict was on his way home. Under one pretext or another, these dinners stopped. So much so that one Sunday, Benedict phoned Clemens and said, “I can call you now, as Don Georg has gone.” It’s as if, in order not to offend his collaborators, he avoided even phoning.

Cardinal Sarah, a “good man” but manipulated?

The journalist asked Pope Francis about the controversy caused by the presence of Benedict XVI’s signature in Cardinal Sarah’s bookFrom the depths of our hearts, which was presented in 2020. The book appeared to be an attempt to interfere in Francis’ pontificate concerning the defense of priestly celibacy.

The Argentine Pope replies by giving context: “Cardinal Robert Sarah is a good man, a very good man. Perhaps I was wrong to appoint him prefect of the current Dicastery for Divine Worship, where he was immediately manipulated by separatist groups. But he’s a good man. He’s an austere man, who prays a lot,” insists Pope Francis, adding this rare analysis from a pope about the head of a dicastery: “I sometimes have the impression that working in the Vatican curia has made him a little bitter.”

Francis’ farewell to his predecessor

Pope Francis gives details of his December 28, 2022, visit to the bedside of his predecessor, whose nearing death he had just announced at the general audience:

Benedict was lying in bed. He was still conscious, but unable to speak. He looked at me, shook my hand, listened to what I was saying, but he couldn’t articulate a word. I stayed with him like that for a while, looking at him and holding his hand. I remember his clear eyes perfectly … I said a few affectionate words to him and blessed him. Then we said goodbye and I left.

Pope Francis shocked to see Pope Emeritus “in custody”

Beyond the moving nature of this farewell, Pope Francis reveals a strange detail about the nurse who had alerted him of Benedict’s health. “At that moment, something very ugly happened. I was leaving, one of the nurses was with me, and one of the monastery doctors said to him: ‘Tu sei uno spione‘ — ‘You are a spy’ — accusing the nurse in a contemptuous tone. What I’m telling you is historical fact,” insists Francis. “The mentality of the doctors was to say nothing. In a way, that made me realize that they had almost put Benedict ‘in custody.’ Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean imprisoned or locked up, but rather ‘guarded,’” recalls Francis.

He nevertheless gave Benedict XVI’s entourage carte blanche to organize the funeral, on January 5, 2023, in St. Peter’s Square, after three days of viewing the body near the main altar under the baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Funeral Mass of Pope Benedict XVI

Francis wants a simpler funeral than his predecessor

Pope Francis indicated that when the time comes, he will be buried not in the Vatican but in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, as he had already announced last December in an interview with Mexican television.

He also specified that there would no longer be a viewing of the body. “There will no longer be a ceremony to close the coffin. Everything will be done in the same ceremony, as for any Christian. What’s more, in my case, they’ll have to take me to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.”

He explains that his tomb has already been prepared. “Just after the sculpture of the Queen of Peace, there’s a small recess, a door that leads to a room where candelabras were stored. I saw it and thought: ‘This is the place,’ and the tomb is already prepared there,” reveals the Pope.

Tags:
PopePope Benedict XVIPope FrancisVatican
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