VATICAN CITY, March 18, 2014 ( – Speaking on German television station ZDF last week, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, secretary to both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, revealed that the former pope had penned a four-page critique of Pope Francis’ controversial interview with the Jesuit magazine, at Pope Francis’ personal request.

Gänswein told ZDF (the relevant section begins at 7 minutes) that he was sent on an errand by Pope Francis, to give a copy of the interview with the Jesuit magazine to Pope Benedict along with a blank sheet of paper on which Benedict was to give a critique. Three days later, recounted the archbishop, Pope Benedict had completed his ‘homework’ and handed in a four-page critique, the contents of which Gänswein would not reveal other than to say it was interesting.

In the wide-ranging, 10,000-word interview, Pope Francis had addressed a wide variety of topics related to his pontificate and personal background and beliefs. However, the lines that attracted the most attention, in both the secular and Catholic press, had to do with the Church’s approach to handling some of the “hot button” moral issues of the day.


“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” the pope had said, adding: “This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.

“The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church,” the pope had said, “but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

These lines were widely interpreted in the mainstream press as a call by the pope for the Catholic Church to downplay its stances on issues like same-sex “marriage” and abortion.

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At the same time, some pro-life leaders also expressed similar misgivings, saying that the pope may unwittingly have given fodder to segments of the Church, and the broader culture, that would be more than happy to see the Church stop talking about key moral issues like abortion, same-sex “marriage” and contraception.

They were joined in some of their concerns by some bishops and cardinals, including Vatican Cardinal Raymond Burke, who, during an appearance on EWTN, was asked about priests who defended their decision to speak less about abortion and gay “marriage” by citing the pope’s admonition to speak about essentials.

Cardinal Burke replied, “What could be more essential than the natural moral law? … We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way.”

Responding to the Pope’s interview, California Bishop Robert Vasa said, “Is there a need for teaching about those things? Absolutely. Are there some folks who overstep the boundary and say, 'OK we're preaching about this every single Sunday?' Well, there may be. But there's a vast majority of people who never talk about it.”

Pope Francis’ request for feedback on his interview from Pope Emeritus Benedict is not the first time that the pontiff has expressed a frank openness to receiving critiques of his words and actions. In November he publicly thanked two conservative critics in Italy whose public articles criticizing Pope Francis’ interviews were seen by many as harsh.

When he learned one of the authors was dying, Pope Francis called him to let him know that he understood that the criticisms had been made with love, and how important it had been for him to receive them.