Maike Hickson

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Pope Francis’ biographer: Pope Benedict’s circle opposes Francis, must be controlled

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August 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Austen Ivereigh, the British journalist and biographer of Pope Francis, has stated that the circle surrounding Pope emeritus Benedict — which he said includes the Vatican's former doctrine head Cardinal Müller — must be brought under "control" since it is a source of "scandal and of division."

Ivereigh made these comments in an August 10 interview to the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, in which he speaks about his upcoming book on Pope Francis, titled The Wounded Shepherd.

Speaking about those who he holds as resisting Pope Francis, Ivereigh points especially to the circle around Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, and most especially to Cardinal Gerhard Müller — the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — whom he describes as a “leader” of the opposition. 

“We have to find a way to control his [Benedict's] court, which is at this moment a source of scandal and of division,” he said. 

Ivereigh singled out Cardinal Müller as one of the most senior voices of opposition against the way Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church. He mentioned a “very vociferous and potent” group of Catholics which launches “a missile every month,” trying to “discredit him [the Pope]”.

“Cardinal Müller has become the leader, the main figure of the opposition. His tactic is to make people believe that there is confusion in the Church and that only he can solve it,” Ivereigh, the former press speaker of the deceased Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, stated.

For Ivereigh, Müller has attempted to “regain” his previously prominent “role” in the Church and that he is “pretending to be the watchdog of doctrine.” “But in the end,” Ivereigh continued, “he is a retired official of the Curia, that is to say, he has no position in the Church.” Ivereigh said that while there have always been “accusations of heresy” addressed to a Pope, it is now “unprecedented” that a former official of the Roman Curia “attacks a Pope so openly.” 

When touching upon the relationship between Pope emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis, Ivereigh noted that the retired pope is “always very loyal” to Pope Francis. “But I also see a court around the Pope emeritus which is very tied to the resistance to the Pope,” he continued, adding that these people surrounding the pope emeritus are “manipulating” him.

“We have to find a way to control his [Benedict's] court, which is at this moment a source of scandal and division,” the author added.

Cardinal Müller has raised his voice of opposition to many controversial ideas coming lately out of the Church, such as Communion for Protestant spouses, Communion for “remarried” divorcees, the female diaconate, and the reform of the Roman Curia. He has pointed out the avoidance in the hierarchy of discussing the real reasons for the clerical sex abuse crisis. Finally, he has strongly criticized the working document of the upcoming October 6-27 Amazon Synod. At the beginning of 2019, the German prelate issued a Manifesto of Faith, in which he restated the main tenets of the Catholic Faith. 

Ivereigh also named Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò as a key critic of Pope Francis. After claiming that the resistance is “potent in the sense that it involves several cardinals and very rich and potent organizations in the United States,” the book author adds that they “saw last year's [clerical sex abuse] crisis as an opportunity.” “In Chile,” he continued, “they saw that the Pope was weak, so they took advantage of that with an unusual ferocity.” 

“But those who attacked him [the Pope],” he goes on to say, “led by [Carlo Maria] Viganò are the same ones who have rejected the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.” The tactics to “discredit him,” Ivereigh alleged, “are very typical of the United States, of the techniques the conservatives used against [President] Obama.”

Moreover, Ivereigh also pointed out that the first Family Synod, which gave the Church the “possibility of change” had at first caused a “fierce opposition.” In his view, the critics did not like that Pope Francis allowed “spaces” and then “respected” the larger “consensus in the end.” Some “who thought they owned the doctrine of the Church” were furious about this development, according to Ivereigh. “Since then they have felt powerless and angry.” For the author, this conflict is about “privileges” and about “power” and about the idea to “own the truth.”

Giuseppe Nardi, a German journalist and commentator, has reported on this new Ivereigh interview and has placed it in the larger context of the current situation in the Catholic Church. He calls Ivereigh one of the “shadow speakers” (“Schattensprecher”) for the Pope. Nardi also points out that it was Ivereigh himself who in his papal biography for the first time revealed the existence of the Sankt Gallen Group. 

Nardi sees in the title of Ivereigh's new book – The Wounded Shepherd – an indirect reference to Dr. Philip Lawler's own critical book The Lost Shepherd.

The German journalist noted how Ivereigh, when commenting on the sex abuse crisis in Chile, omitted the fact that Pope Francis “had, for three and a half years, dismissed all indications concerning the Barros case, calling them 'slander.'” Pope Francis had displayed a compromising role by first defending Bishop Juan Barros, one of the key people involved in the Chilean abuse crisis. Only years later was Pope Francis pressed to admit his own fault in this matter.

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.