Respect, affection, differences and advice: how was the relationship between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI

Benedict and Francisco, the popes who lived together for almost ten years

On March 13, 2013 Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope after the resignation in February of that year of Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). Since then, and until the death of the German theologian on December 31, There was much speculation about the relationship between Francis and the pope emeritus. An unprecedented event for the recent history of the Church, since a similar situation had not been experienced for more than 600 years.

Both arrived at the Holy See with two opposing positions: Benedict XVI defended a fervent orthodoxy, against a more reformist version of Francisco.

The first meeting between the two took place on March 23, 2013, ten days after the election of the current Pontiff. They embraced warmly at the heliport in Castel Gandolfo, the residence where the pope emeritus had spent those days after presenting his resignation. Before meeting in the private library, they headed to the chapel to share a prayer. In a clear gesture of respect and recognition, Francisco he gave the place of honor to his predecessor.

From the beginning the coexistence was discreet and friendly. But with the passage of time some counterpoints began to emerge between those voices that represented two different types of Churches.

“I would not speak of tensions, since Benedict never clearly showed his disagreement and has always maintained good relations with Francisco. But I suppose it was obvious that Benedict felt at least embarrassed by some of the decisions that annulled his, such as the one that abolished the liberalization of the traditional Mass”, analyzed the vaticanista Andrea Gagliarducciin dialogue with Infobae.

The Italian specialist and writer described Ratzinger as “Pope Francis’ shadow adviser.” “In fact, especially at the beginning, Francis often showed a certain closeness to the monastery.”

And, despite certain disagreements that existed between the two Popes, he considered that there was never a situation of instability or extreme tension between the two religious expressions: “In the end, the relationship was cordial, I would say. Benedict XVI never endangered the Pope. The Pope appreciated it very much”.

In that line, Federico Lombardispokesman for Benedict XVI, valued the “spiritual solidarity” between the two Popes and clarified that at no time were there fears about the situation that was created because “the papacy is service and not power.”

“The last time there were two or three Popes, they didn’t talk to each other, they fought to see who was the real one. I love Benedict very much. I always wanted it. He is a man of God, humble, who prays. An example of greatness. And I was very happy when he was elected Pontiff”. This is how Francisco pronounced before the press, upon his return from World Youth Day in Brazil in July 2013. Since his inauguration, it was the first time he had openly referred to his relationship with his predecessor.

Benedict XVI and Francis represented two opposing positions of the Church (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)
Benedict XVI and Francis represented two opposing positions of the Church (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach) (KAI PFAFFENBACH/)

in his book “The monastery”the Italian journalist Massimo Franco He maintains that at the beginning there was “a kind of copapado”. According to his account, Francisco asked Benedict XVI to maintain certain appearances and pronouncements “because it covered a missing aspect of his pontificate”: “That of the conservatives or actually traditionalists”.

“But when Francis’ pontificate ran into difficulties, the monastery was no longer a pole of cooperationbut first it became a kind of obstacle and then a form of counterpower”, he adds.

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolínhe said recently in an interview with the newspaper Corriere della Sera, that the fact that two successors of Peter coexisted at the same time “configured an unprecedented institutional situation for the Church.” “Maybe someone thought to take advantage of it, and maybe even tried to sow confusion. But he was unsuccessful in his attempt,” he opined.

Despite the versions regarding possible disagreements and disagreements, there were many meetings, both public and private, between Pope Francis and the emeritus Benedict XVI. Encounters always marked by cordiality, affection and mutual respect. In fact, the Supreme Pontiff was in contact and visited his predecessor until his last days. In these ten years there was never a lack of visits from him on his birthday and every Christmas.

The last meeting took place on the morning of December 28, at the “Mater Ecclesiae” Monastery, where the emeritus pope had resided since his resignation. Francisco went to visit him after the General Audience, since Benedict’s state of health had worsened in recent hours.

On August 18, 2014, during the return flight from the apostolic trip to South Korea, the Pope spoke of the relationship between the two: “Our relationship is that of brothers. I also said that I feel like I have grandpa at home for wisdom: he is a man with wisdom, with nuances, which makes me good to hear. And he also encourages me a lot. This is the relationship we have with him.”

Francisco always said that his relationship with Benedict was one of
Francis always said that his relationship with Benedict was one of “respect” and “affection”, and affirmed that he felt as if he had his grandfather at home because of the “wisdom” of the emeritus pope (Vatican Press / Distributed via REUTERS) (VATICAN MEDIA / )

“He is the man who guards my shoulders and my back with his prayer. I will never forget that speech that he addressed to us, to the cardinals, on February 28: ‘One of you will undoubtedly be my successor. I promise obedience’. And he did. Then I heard – but I don’t know if it’s true – I underline: I heard, maybe they are rumors, but they match his character, that some people went there to complain because ‘this new Pope…’, and he kicked them out! In the best Bavarian way: polite, but he chased them away. And if it is not true, well found he is, because this man is like that: he is a man of his word, a just, upright man! ”, He commented two years later in the framework of a trip to Armenia.

In his book “El Monasterio”, Franco recounts some disagreements between the two Popes. One of them, according to the author, occurred in 2019, when after the meeting of the Supreme Pontiff with the episcopal conferences to deal with the issue of abuse, Benedict XVI published his vision on the subject in a German magazine. In the publication, he linked these scandals to an alleged moral collapse of contemporary societies.

Another event took place in January 2020, when a new book signed by Benedict XVI was announced – without reference to his emeritus status – and Cardinal robert sarahone of the main referents of the conservative faction and a great critic of Pope Francis.

However, the “turning point” in the relationship between Bergoglio and Ratzinger would have occurred when Francis put several obstacles to the celebration of the Mass with the rite in Latin. Georg GänsweinGerman archbishop and Benedict XVI’s right-hand man for many years, said in his book “Nothing but the truth: my life with Benedict XVI” that this decision of the Supreme Pontiff meant for the emeritus “a pain in the heart”.

For Franco, “all these disasters derive from the fact that this emeritus papacy has lasted too long”: “Benedict has been emeritus longer, nine years, than reigning pope, eight yearsand this has weakened the official reasons (of weakness) for which he said he had resigned and has caused the logic of power to explode.

During an interview in 2014 with the agency Reuters, Gänswein stated that he felt like a bridge between two bridges., by serving Ratzinger and Bergoglio at the same time. But that changed overnight, when he was removed from his duties and entrusted with taking care of Benedict during his retirement. In his pages, the monsignor regretted that decision of the Pope.

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who was secretary to the late pope emeritus Benedict XVI, sparked controversy at the Vatican for his memoir targeting the current pontiff, Francis (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who was secretary to the late pope emeritus Benedict XVI, sparked controversy in the Vatican for his memoir in which he takes aim at the current pontiff, Francis (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) (Andrew Medichini/)

Among other criticisms of his management, confirmed the existence of currents or “bands” within the Holy See. “In effect, I believe that the most correct analysis should indicate as a problem, not so much the coexistence of two Popes -one reigning and the other emeritus- but rather the birth and development of two fans since, with the passage of time, Ratzinger realized more and more that they were effectively two visions of the Church”, he commented. And he added: “These two fans have created that tension that later reverberated on those who were not sufficiently aware of the ecclesiastical dynamics.”

For Franco, the “beginning of the second phase of Francis’ papacy” began now, with Gänswein’s words. Even “Il Messaggero”the only newspaper that Pope Francis reads, recently headlined that the “war of currents has already begun”after the death of Benedict XVI.

In the first days of February, while returning from his trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, Francis was consulted about these publications that referred to his relationship with Benedict. About, He considered that the death of his predecessor was instrumentalized “by people from the party and not from the Church.” He also stated that “those stories that are told that Benedict XVI was very upset” with him “were a Chinese tale”, referring – although he did not quote him – to Ganswein and his statements about the supposed “pain” that Ratzinger felt when Bergoglio introduced limits to the masses in the Tridentine rite, prior to the Second Vatican Council, and which are celebrated in Latin and with their backs to the faithful.

“He was always there and has supported me and if he had any difficulties he would tell me. We talked, there were no problems,” Francisco said.

Looking to the future, now without the presence of the Pope emeritus, Gagliarducci predicted that “confrontations will come, and I would also say that Pope Francis will be more willing to push things forward, regardless of the consequences”: “Benedict XVI was the guarantor of a certain Pax ecclesiae because it discouraged confrontations”.