‘Benedict trusted Francis. But he was bitterly disappointed,’ biographer says in new interview

Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is greeted by Pope Francis during the Ordinary Public Consistory at St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 14, 2015. | Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

On the eve of the first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s death, his biographer, Peter Seewald, raised serious concerns about how Pope Francis is managing the legacy of his predecessor. 

“Benedict trusted Francis. But he was bitterly disappointed several times,” Seewald said in an interview published Dec. 27.

Pope Francis may have written “nice letters” to his predecessor and described him as a “great pope,” Seewald told the New Daily Compass. However, in practice, he said, he has “erased much of what was precious and dear to Ratzinger.”

“If you really speak of a ‘great pope’ out of conviction, shouldn’t you do everything you can to cultivate his legacy? Just as Benedict XVI did with regard to John Paul II? As we can see today, Pope Francis has, in fact, done very little to remain in continuity with his predecessors,” Seewald said.

Instead, the South American and Jesuit pope wanted to erase much of “what was dear to Ratzinger,” according to the Benedict biographer.

‘Stabbed in the heart’

Seewald pointed to the tight restrictions against the Traditional Latin Mass by Pope Francis, reversing Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which acknowledged the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962, which is in Latin.

“Ratzinger wanted to pacify the Church without questioning the validity of the Mass according to the 1969 Roman Missal,” Seewald said. “‘The way we treat the liturgy,’ he explained, ‘determines the destiny of the faith and the Church.’” 

The biographer questioned the veracity of “the claim that the majority of bishops voted in favor of repealing Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum in a worldwide survey.”

“What I find particularly shameful is that the pope emeritus was not even informed of this act but had to learn about it from the press. He has been stabbed in the heart.”

Benedict had built “a small bridge to a largely forgotten treasure island, which until then had only been accessible through difficult terrain. It was a matter close to the German pope’s heart and there was really no reason to tear down this bridge again.”

Purging of staff

Seewald said the “purge of staff” completed the picture: “Many people who supported Ratzinger’s course and Catholic doctrine were ‘guillotined.’”

Seewald took particular issue with Pope Francis’ treatment of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who served both as longtime secretary to Benedict and as the Vatican’s prefect of the Papal Household to both popes for several years.

“It was an unprecedented event in the history of the Church that Archbishop Gänswein, the closest collaborator of a highly deserving pope, of the greatest theologian ever to sit on the Chair of Peter, was shamefully thrown out of the Vatican. He did not even receive a word of pro forma thanks for his work.” 

Seewald noted that Gänswein was not an isolated case: “When a Ratzinger supporter like 75-year-old Cardinal [Raymond] Burke is stripped of his home and salary overnight without any explanation, it is difficult to recognize Christian brotherhood in all of this.”

Benedict’s death ‘instrumentalized’

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died at the age of 95 on Dec. 31, 2022. Speaking to journalists on his flight to Rome two months later, Pope Francis accused people of using the Bavarian pontiff’s death in self-serving ways. Benedict XVI, he emphasized, “was not a bitter man.”

“I think Benedict’s death was instrumentalized by people who want to serve their own interests,” Pope Francis said during the in-flight press conference on Feb. 5. The pope added that people who instrumentalized such a good and holy person were partisans and unethical.

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