Saturday, February 17, 2024

Pope Francis Discusses His Relationship with Benedict XVI

Pope Francis addresses the delicate question of his relationship with Benedict XVI in a book interview soon to be published-- a decade of an unprecedented cohabitation which will have definitively marked the present pontificate and the history of the Church in the 21st century.

“Benedict and I had a very deep relationship, and I want people to know that, I want it to be made known without intermediaries.” Is this a form of justification? Or a desire to master the narrative of two Popes--one in office, the other “emeritus”? One thing is certain: the book interview which should come out on April 3, 2024, in its Spanish edition is likely to be talked about.

First of all, the title--The Successor: My Memories of Benedict XVI--is revelatory enough, because it seems to highlight, perhaps unintentionally, the fact that the shadow of Joseph Ratzinger, like the statue of the Commander in Don Juan, looms definitively over the current pontificate.

Throughout 330 pages, the Argentine Pope mentions, with the naturalness of which he is accustomed, a decade of cohabitation with Benedict XVI, “without dodging the polemics and the difficulties,” explains Javier Martínez-Brocal, the journalist who collected Francis’ words.

It’s worth noting that the latter chose as interlocutor the Roman correspondent of the Spanish conservative media ABC who signed El Papa de la Misericordia [The Pope of Mercy] in 2015, a work noticed and appreciated by the present Successor of Peter.

In the upcoming work to be published after Easter, it is explained that the Pope Emeritus “enlarged the perspective” in different interviews that they were able to have. Francis affirms his truth: his relationship with Benedict XVI was “much more fluid” than it is is said here and there in the press.

In support of his thesis, the current Roman Pontiff remembers: “sometimes I would broach a subject, another time it would be him. ‘I am worried about what is happening,’ we would sometimes say. We would talk about everything, with a lot of freedom. When I would ask him a question, he would tell me: ‘Well, it must also be looked at this way, or that way.’”

In Francis’ eyes, his predecessor “had this ability to enlarge the perspective to help me make a good decision. He never told me: ‘I do not agree,’ but rather, ‘it’s good like this, however, such other element must be taken into account.’ He broadened the horizons, always.”

Both here and elsewhere, everything is in what is left unsaid, and the Argentine Pontiff is not the first Jesuit Pope in History for nothing: to take only one example, if Benedict XVI never outwardly showed his disagreement with Francis, that is not to say that the two men were on the same wavelength.

A Divergence of Method

From Traditionis Custodes to Fiducia Supplicans--which the Pope Emeritus did not know--via the synodal method, it is difficult not to see a certain break between the two pontificates, at least in the methods employed. But their intentions appear to converge: thus the intention of the two Popes would always have been to preserve primary place for the reformed Mass.

Pope Francis also intends to close the chapter of his relationship with Benedict XVI: “we maintained a very deep relationship, I want that to be known, and without intermediaries. He was a man who had the courage to resign and who, from then, continued to accompany the Church and her successor,” he insisted.

A Fundamental Continuity

The reigning Pope is not wrong on one point: even if the method was clearly different, the foundation remains the same between the two pontificates: fidelity to Vatican II.

Certainly there is a divergence in the manner of treating the traditional Mass, a divergence which comes from a visceral rejection on the part of the reigning Pope and a certain attachment on the part of the deceased Pope Emeritus.

There is also a certain divergence in the manner of acting in regards to irregular and same-sex couples. Benedict XVI always followed a line which connected to the immutable doctrine of the Church, while Francis broke away from it and slid down an increasingly slippery slope from Amoris laetitia to Fiducia Supplicans.

But on the conciliar basis, it is continuity which has prevailed, even if the Jesuit Pope is more consistent with the theses of Vatican II, always pushing them more according to their logic, while his predecessors, from Paul VI to Benedict XVI, did not go as far, for various reasons.

This is why Francis is not really wrong to affirm continuity, even if he glosses over in silence the divergences which displease him.