Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger would have been a figure to be remembered in the history of the Church even if he had not been elected to the papal throne. In 2005, however, the Lord called one of the greatest living theologians, the man to whom Saint John Paul II entrusted the custody of Catholic orthodoxy for 23 years, to become Pope. Benedict XVI’s pontificate ended, traumatically, more than a decade ago as his earthly life ended a year ago, depriving the precincts of St Peter’s of that ‘service of prayer’ promised at his last general audience on 27 February 2013. Also in light of the new season under the banner of a claimed discontinuity at the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith, what has become of Ratzinger’s legacy in the current pontificate? This is a question the Daily Compass asked Peter Seewald, a German journalist, friend and biographer of Benedict XVI with whom he has written four interview-books.
Is it fair to say that the relationship between Benedict XVI and Francis was “very close”, as Francis recently declared?
Good question. We all remember the warm words that Cardinal Ratzinger spoke at the requiem for John Paul II. Words that touched the heart, that spoke of Christian love, of respect. But no one remembers Bergoglio’s words at the requiem for Benedict XVI. They were as cold as the whole ceremony, which had to be rather brief so as not to honour his predecessor too much. At least that was my impression.
Your judgement is harsh.
I mean, how does one manifest friendship? With a mere statement in words or by living it? The differences between Benedict XVI and his successor were great from the start. In temperament, culture, intellect and above all in the direction of the pontificates. In the beginning Benedict did not know much about Bergoglio, except that as a bishop in Argentina he was known for his authoritarian leadership. He promised his successor obedience. Francis obviously regarded it as a kind of blank cheque. Even his predecessor remained silent so as not to give the slightest impression of wanting to interfere in his successor’s governance. Benedict trusted Francis. But he was bitterly disappointed several times.
What do you mean by this?
Bergoglio continued to write nice letters to the Pope Emeritus after his election. He knew he could not hold a candle to this great and noble spirit. He also repeatedly spoke of the gifts of his predecessor, calling him a ‘great Pope’ whose legacy will become more evident from generation to generation. But if one really speaks of a ‘great Pope’ out of conviction, shouldn’t one do everything possible to cultivate his legacy? Just as Benedict XVI did with regard to John Paul II? As we can see today, Pope Francis has done very little indeed to remain in continuity with his predecessors.
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