ROME — A close aide to emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has denied the former pontiff is playing any behind-the-scenes role over the issue of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, calling such reports a “pure invention.”
The aide also dismissed suggestions that Benedict is a sort of “anti-pope” for conservatives upset with Francis, calling it “stupid and irresponsible,” and labeling such rumors a form of “theological arson.”
Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the papal household and personal secretary of emeritus pope Benedict XVI, made the comments in an interview with the German magazine Christ und Welt.
During the Synod of Bishops on the Family last October, there were persistent rumors that a delegation of more conservative cardinals who were worried about a possible change for the divorced and remarried sought out Benedict’s counsel.
Gänswein said that meeting never happened.
“A supposed intervention by the Pope emeritus [during the Synod of Bishops] is pure invention,” said Gänswein, who served as priest-secretary for the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then became his closest aide as pope.
Gänswein insisted there’s no doctrinal gap between Benedict and Francis on the divorce and remarriage issue.
“I know of no doctrinal statements from Pope Francis which are contrary to the statements of his predecessor,” Gänswein said.
“It’s one thing to emphasize the pastoral efforts more clearly because the situation requires it,” he said. “It’s something else entirely to make a change in teaching.”
The interview with the German magazine was translated into English by the Catholic Netherlands blog “In Caelo et in Terra” (On Heaven and Earth) and published on Wednesday.
In it, Gänswein said that that doctrine and pastoral care are not in opposition, but rather, are twins.
“The pope is the first guarantor and keeper of the doctrine of the Church and, at the same time, the first shepherd, the first pastor,” he said.
One year ago, Gänswein made comments seen as a bit critical of Pope Francis, saying that Francis was a “media darling” but not everyone’s “darling.” On this occasion, however, Gänswein praised Francis’ important documents and speeches, such as Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), for providing a compass for his papacy.
“Contours have become clearly visible and clear priorities were set,” Gänswein said.
According to Gänswein, the main priority for Francis is mission, meaning efforts to spread the faith.
“No internal navel-gazing, no self-reference, but sharing the Gospel with the world,” he said. “That is the motto.”
However, Gänswein wasn’t particularly pleased with the pontiff’s speech to Vatican officials Dec. 22 in which the pope ticked off a list of 15 “spiritual diseases” to which the pontiff believes the Roman Curia is susceptible, including the “terrorism of gossip” and “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
“It was a treat for the media,” Gänswein said. “During the talk I could already see the headlines: ‘Pope castigates Curia prelates’; ‘Pope reads his coworkers the law’!”
“Sadly, outwardly it gave the impression that there was a rift between the Pope and the Curia,” he said. “That impression is deceiving, and does not coincide with reality. But the address drowned that out.”
Gänswein praised Francis’ generally deft handling of the media, but also expressed regret over a few specific cases in which Vatican spokesmen have had to issue clarifications about things the pope has said or done.
On the emeritus pope’s decision to resign, Gänswein said that Benedict is “at peace with himself and convinced that the decision was right and necessary.”