VATICAN CITY – Although Pope Francis often compared having former Pope Benedict living in the Vatican to having a grandfather in the house, a book by Benedict’s closest aide shows what he says were strains while two men wearing white lived in the tiny city-state.
Benedict was buried on Thursday (Jan 5) and hours after the funeral in St. Peter’s Square an Italian publishing house began sending journalists advance copies of the 330-page “Nothing But The Truth – My Life Beside Benedict XVI”, by Archbishop Georg Ganswein.
Ganswein, 66, was Benedict’s personal secretary from 2003, when Benedict was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and remained as his side for nearly 20 years until his death on Saturday. He was Francis’ gatekeeper until he was replaced in 2020.
In the book, due to be in bookstores on Jan 12, Ganswein gives an insider’s view of Benedict’s election in 2005, his 2013 decision to become the first pope in 600 years to step down, his post-papacy years, his sickness and his final hours.
Even though Benedict largely avoided public appearances after his resignation, he remained a standard-bearer for Catholic conservatives, who felt alienated by reforms ushered in by Francis, including cracking down on the old Latin Mass.
Ganswein says Benedict was “surprised” that Francis never responded to a public letter by four conservative cardinals in 2016, including American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, which accused Francis of sowing confusion on moral issues.
The book also says Benedict did not agree with some of Francis’ stands.
After Francis gave a long interview to a Jesuit journal six months after his election in 2013, Francis sent the journal to Benedict for his comments.
Ganswein says Benedict, in his annotated response to Francis, critiqued the way Francis had responded to questions on abortion and homosexuality.
He also writes that Benedict felt Francis’ decisions to restrict the use of the traditionalist Latin Mass was “a mistake”.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no comment on the book, written with Italian journalist Saverio Gaeta and published by Piemme, an imprint of Mondadori.
Serving two masters
For the first seven years after Francis was elected pope, Ganswein kept his two jobs – Prefect of the Pontifical Household and private secretary to the ex-pope.
Ganswein writes that he was never able to reach a “a climate of trust” with the new pope and that Francis probably let him keep the prefect’s job for so long out of respect for Benedict.
The axe fell in January 2020, when Ganswein was at the centre of a messy episode concerning a book about priestly celibacy written primarily by conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Sarah said Benedict was co-author. Benedict said he was not and demanded that his name be removed from the cover.
Ganswein was caught in the middle and Francis, who official Vatican sources said at the time was not pleased by how the episode was handled, effectively fired Ganswein from his job as prefect.
Ganswein writes that Francis ordered him to “not come back to work tomorrow” but to look after the ailing Benedict full time.
Benedict wrote two letters to Francis appealing to him to do or say something to clear up the situation because Ganswein was suffering and “under attack from all sides”. Francis never reinstated Ganswein in the post.
Ganswein wrote that Benedict told him on Sept 25, 2012, that he had decided to resign – about five months before he did – and said the pope told a handful of top Vatican officials later.
He said he tried to convince the pope to slow down rather then step down but Benedict would not have it and began thinking of the best timing for an event they knew would be historic.
This article was first published in Asia One . All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.