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(LifeSiteNews) — Pope Benedict XVI’s biographer Peter Seewald has pushed back against Pope Francis’ claims that the two popes had a “cordial relationship” and that Benedict was a “transitional pope.”

In a recent interview with Katholische SonntagsZeitung of the Diocese of Regensburg (reprinted by Marco Tosatti), Seewald was asked about Francis’ recently published comments on his relationship with Pope Benedict in the book-length interview titled The Successor.

When asked by the interviewer why Francis had called Benedict a “transitional pope,” Seewald stated that “Francis always takes a two-pronged approach.”

“On the one hand, he praises Benedict, even describing him as a ‘great pope’ whose person and work would become more and more apparent from generation to generation, and on the other hand, he belittles him, calling him a grandfather, a fatherly friend or even a ‘transitional pope.’”

“From the very beginning, Bergoglio wanted to break away from the continuity of the popes, to challenge the traditional, to shake things up or simply to cause ‘chaos,’ as he says in the new book by Javier Martinez-Brocal,” Seewald continued.

“He describes traditional forms as a ‘nostalgic illness.’ He demonstratively showed who is the master of the house by abolishing Benedict’s liberalized approach to the Old Mass.”

“The Pope Emeritus found out about this from the newspaper. So much for the allegedly ‘cordial relationship’ between the two,” the papal biographer said.

READ: Abp. Gänswein: Traditionis Custodes caused Benedict XVI ‘pain in his heart’

Seewald insisted that many of the positive reforms that Pope Francis is credited with were started by Benedict.

“He [Benedict] introduced open synods of bishops for the first time,” the author stated. “He began to restructure the Vatican’s financial system. He made enormous progress in interreligious dialogue. He intensified the relationship with Judaism, which was never better than during his time in office. He was the first pope in history to write a Christology. It is regarded as the Magna Charta for the Church’s image of Jesus.”

“What’s more, he is considered the greatest theologian ever to sit on the Chair of Peter and the Doctor of the Church of the modern age,” Seewald continued. “Above all, he spoke without any ambiguity and ensured that the bark of Peter stayed on course. Last but not least, his resignation, the first of a truly reigning pontiff, changed the papacy as it has never been changed in modern times. A ‘transitional pope?’ Well…”

Seewald continued to stress the historical significance of Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI.

“Ratzinger made history: as a driving force behind the Second Vatican Council, as an innovator in theology, as a prefect who significantly strengthened the pontificate of John Paul II for a quarter of a century. And, of course, as Pope.”

Seewald said Ratzinger became “the most widely read theologian of modern times” and praised the “decisive action” he took during the sexual abuse scandal while acknowledging, as Benedict did himself, that he also made mistakes.

Seewald posited that Benedict XVI “does not stand for a Church of yesterday but for a Church of tomorrow.”

“’The process of crystallization and clarification,’ he [Benedict] noted, will ‘cost the Church many fine powers.’ It will ‘make it poor, turn it into a Church of little ones… But after testing these divisions, a great strength will flow from an internalized and simplified Church.”

In his interview book, The Successor, Francis referred to Pope Benedict as a “transitional pope” and stressed that he and the pope emeritus had a good relationship.

However, some of Benedict’s closest associates, like his private secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein and Seewald, stressed how hurt and disappointed the pope emeritus was with some of his successor’s decisions.

“Benedict trusted Francis. But he was bitterly disappointed several times,” Seewald said in an interview published in December 2023.

Seewald told the New Daily Compass that Francis “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,” Seewald observed.


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