(LifeSiteNews) — Pope Benedict XVI’s official biographer blasted Pope Francis in a new interview, accusing the pope of trying to “break out” of the Tradition of the Church and warning that Francis’ recent actions, including the appointment of a heterodox Vatican doctrinal chief, could lead to a “flood” that “destroys” the remnants of Christianity in Europe.
Contrasting Benedict and Francis, Seewald said that the former “underlined the importance of continuity and the great traditions of the Catholic Church, without at the same time closing himself off to reforms.”
“Reform means to preserve in renewal, to renew in preservation, in order to bring the testimony of faith with new clarity into the darkness of the world,” Seewald said.
“Francis, on the other hand, wants to break out of continuity. And thus from the doctrinal tradition of the Church,” he charged. “It could be observed that Pope Francis’ course becomes more radicalized with increasing age, or shall we say: unveiled.”
Seewald pointed to Traditionis custodes, Francis’ apostolic letter that severely restricts the Traditional Latin Mass and reversed Benedict XVI’s document Summorum Pontificum, which gave priests broad permission to celebrate the old Mass.
Traditionis custodes “was like a stab in the heart” for Benedict, who only learned about it from the Vatican’s newspaper, Seewald related. “He never recovered from it in terms of his health.”
“Shortly after his death, the whole world could then follow how Bergoglio sped up his pace even more.”
Seewald particularly condemned Francis’ appointment of Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández as the new prefect of the Dicastery (formerly Congregation) for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the highest doctrinal office of the Church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, led the CDF for 23 years under Pope St. John Paul II.
Fernández, whom Francis has also named a cardinal, has said that the Church could “rethink” the rejection of “blessings” for homosexual unions, argued in support of condom use, and wrote an erotic book about kissing.
The appointment of Fernández to the CDF shows that Pope Francis is seeking the “destruction of Benedict’s legacy,” Seewald suggested.
After dismissing former CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, an appointee of Benedict, “at the first opportunity,” Francis is “now hoisting someone into office who immediately announced a kind of self-dismantling,” he said. Fernández “wants to change the Catechism, relativize the statements of the Bible, put celibacy up for discussion,” Seewald noted.
The incoming doctrine chief hinted at revising the language of the Catechism on homosexuality last week, telling Italian newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale that the Catechism allegedly causes “pain” to “people’s hearts.” Pope Francis “would undoubtedly use different language,” Fernández said.
Seewald also criticized a letter that Francis addressed to Fernández upon his appointment to the CDF, in which the pope claimed that “harmonious growth” of “differing currents of thought” “will preserve Christian doctrine more effectively than any control mechanism.”
“That not only sounds slippery, but also downright grotesque in view of the dramatic crisis of the Church in the West,” the papal biographer commented.
In the same letter, Francis denounced the CDF for having previously used “immoral methods,” a remark that Seewald slammed as an “infamous” attack on Benedict XVI intended “to make relativism hopeful.”
“The Dicastery over which you will preside in other times came to use immoral methods,” Francis wrote to Fernández. “Those were times when, rather than promoting theological knowledge, possible doctrinal errors were pursued.”
“How could this not be seen as a reference to the former prefect of the [CDF], Joseph Ratzinger? As well as an attempt to legitimize the change of course,” Seewald responded. “The statement is meant to discredit the high level of the Congregation under Cardinals Müller and Ratzinger in order to make relativism hopeful.”
The CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger and later Pope Benedict XVI became a target of the left-wing media and dissident Catholics for investigating and occasionally censuring priests and theologians who contradicted Catholic teaching. Indeed, the Congregation investigated Fernández himself for more than a year after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis, appointed him rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in 2009.
“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had doctrinal concerns, and the Congregation for Education considered him unsuitable for such an important leadership position,” Seewald related. Bergoglio, however, “pushed through” Fernandez’ appointment as rector and now “clears the way to Rome for him by redefining the duties of a prefect of the Dicastery for the Faith,” he said. “It would not be so much about preserving doctrine, but about a growing understanding of the truth ‘without committing to a single form of expression.’ In plain language: without committing oneself.”
Seewald noted that Fernández has also served as Francis’ ghostwriter, but “for speeches that are often quite meaningless, or also for the controversial encyclical Amoris Laetitia. With building blocks that critics have described as ‘illegible to wishy-washy’ and that experts see bordering on heresy.”
“The latest developments point to a real breach of the dam,” he said. “And in view of the dramatic decline of Christianity in Europe, this could turn into a flood that destroys what has still held out.”
Benedict XVI: The katechon?
At one point, Seewald described Pope Benedict XVI as something like the katechon, the force mentioned by St. Paul that temporarily “restrains” the Antichrist and the coming of the end times (2 Thess 2:7).
Recent news from the Vatican, Seewald said, reminded him of a 2013 book by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben that envisioned Benedict as a kind of katechon.
Seewald also recalled that Benedict, as a young theologian, “distinguished between a church of the wicked and a church of the just in an interpretation of Augustine.” In an essay published in 1956, the future pope wrote that “the Antichrist belongs to the Church, grows in it and with it up to the great separation, which will be introduced by the ultimate revelation.”
“Against this background, his resignation inevitably evoked a separation of the ‘beautiful’ from the ‘black’ Church, that span in which the wheat is separated from the chaff,” Seewald stated.
And he revealed that Benedict “apparently saw it similarly.”
“He had to stay on, he answered my question as to why he could not die. As a memorial to the authentic message of Jesus, as a light on the mountain. ‘In the end, Christ will triumph,’ he added,” Seewald attested.
Francis an ‘authoritarian ruler’
In contrast to media portrayals of Francis as the “Pope of Mercy,” Seewald decried the pontiff’s “authoritarian” style and how he has “ruled harshly.”
“Bergoglio knew that he could not hold a candle to Ratzinger in his theological brilliance and nobility,” he stated. “He concentrated on effects and had the backing of the media, which did not want to look too closely, lest they also see that behind the pope, who was portrayed as open-minded and progressive, was a sometimes very authoritarian ruler, as Bergoglio was already known in Argentina.”
Though Seewald said Pope Francis initially “impressed him” with his “commitment to the poor” and refugees, “the astonished public observed that Bergoglio did not keep many of his promises … contradicting himself again and again and thus causing considerable confusion.”
“In addition, there were the many cases in which he ruled harshly, deposed unpopular people, and closed valuable institutions created under John Paul II,” the biographer said.
Seewald cited Francis’ treatment of Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, whom Francis ordered to leave the Vatican last month.
“It makes him untrustworthy,” Seewald remarked. “One cannot, with the Bible in hand, constantly speak of brotherly love, mutual respect, and mercy and at the same time trample these virtues underfoot. The brutality and public humiliation with which a deserving man like Gänswein was dumped is unprecedented. Not even the custom of giving a word of thanks to a departing employee, as is customary in the smallest company, was observed.”
“The Pope downgraded Gänswein, but he meant the one for whom Gänswein stands.”
Pope Francis also sparked outrage last year for removing Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres from the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, without due canonical process or even an explanation. To date, the Vatican has not given a reason for the move, which was reportedly due to the conservative bishop’s opposition to COVID jab mandates. Francis has aggressively targeted traditional orders and groups, as well, in addition to cracking down on the Latin Mass.
At the same time, the pope has promoted openly heterodox prelates, like Archbishop Fernández, and allowed bishops in Germany and Belgium to approve “blessings” for homosexual unions and publicly repudiate Catholic teaching without penalty.
Moreover, Seewald pointed out that both Francis and Fernández have protected clerics accused of committing or covering up sex abuse.
Fernández only agreed to take on the role of CDF prefect after Pope Francis “assured him that he would not have to deal with sexual abuse in the Church,” Seewald said. “Again, a clear difference in orientation. While Fernández abdicated responsibility for the abuse, Ratzinger, as prefect, pulled it into his domain because he saw that elsewhere the offenses were swept under the table and the victims left alone,” he observed.
“Fernández, however, is no stranger to this issue,” he continued, citing reports that Fernández covered up at least 11 cases of clerical abuse as archbishop of La Plata, Argentina.
Pope Francis, for his part, personally appointed disgraced Belgian Cardinal Godfried Daneels to the Vatican’s Synod on the Family after Danneels had been caught covering up child sex abuse, Seewald recalled.
“Danneels was one of the driving forces of the so-called ‘Saint Gallen Mafia,’ a group of cardinals who wanted to push Bergoglio through as pope as early as the 2005 conclave; which almost succeeded,” he said.
“Francis also had no problem appointing Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington who was known to be an abuser, to Vatican bodies,” he added. “Benedict XVI had taken action against McCarrick, but Francis entrusted him with negotiations with the People’s Republic of China. These led to an agreement that subordinated the underground Catholic Church, which Benedict XVI was still promoting, to the state authorities.”
“Since then, banners with inscriptions such as ‘Love the Communist Party’ have hung in China’s churches,” Seewald said, noting that Pope Francis recently confirmed the Chinese government’s appointment of a bishop to the Diocese of Shanghai.
Despite Francis’ efforts to remake the Church in his image, Seewald expressed hope: “The Holy Spirit still has something to say about this. And many who are rejoicing today that Francis is getting rid of Benedict’s legacy could be weeping bitterly about it tomorrow.”