ROME – According to German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal secretary of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, it’s not appropriate to make a “papal ranking,” and acknowledged that the former pope has been misinterpreted not only by foes, but also by friends.

“Everyone knows that the figure and work of Benedict XVI have encountered resistance, opposition and rejection in certain environments,” Gänswein said. “And not so much because of the way he communicates, but rather because of the specific contents of his teaching.”

“This is an unpleasant experience for all those who follow a clear and unclouded line in proclaiming and defending the Catholic faith,” he continued, differentiating these critics from those who bought the “stereotypes and clichés” about the former pope, who served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) during most of St. John Paul II pontificate.

Though Gänswein offered not examples, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was often labeled as “God’s Rottweiler” and the Church’s “German shepherd” because of his efforts to fight secularization, liberation theology, and radical feminism.

Yet as Pope Francis has often said, during his time at the the CDF, Ratzinger spearheaded the Church’s efforts to fight clerical sexual abuse.

“These distortions, after a truce in the first years of his pontificate, later returned with a deceptive and delegitimizing intention,” Gänswein said in an interview with Spanish magazine Alfa & Omega. “But it is known to all that Benedict XVI never allowed himself to be conditioned by this false advertising campaign. The generalized and indeterminate consensus has never been the norm that has guided his work.”

The archbishop, who served as the prefect of the Papal Household during the first seven years of Francis pontificate, told the journalist that though it’s understandable and excusable to try to compare the various popes create a ranking based on the merits of each one, it’s also “inappropriate.”

“But we must convince ourselves that the criteria of this ranking do not depend on applause or a common denominator, but on how they bear witness to Jesus Christ, true man and true God, the only savior of the world,” he said. “Each pontiff does so with his peculiarities, with all the differences of character, intellectual formation, spiritual maturation, experiential heritage … But this diversity is precisely the manifestation that no pope is the successor of his predecessor, but rather the successor of the Apostle Peter.”

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The journalist also asked Gänswein if Francis had been able to “benefit” from Benedict’s knowledge of the Church in Germany, currently undergoing a Synodal Path over which the Argentine pontiff has expressed some reservation.

“The meetings between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, generally at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, are always extremely confidential meetings,” he answered. “But regardless of this, it is crystal clear that the situation of the Catholic Church in Germany is currently characterized by tensions and confusion that are a source of concern.”

“Benedict XVI is aware of this situation in his homeland,” Gänswein said. “He perceives and recognizes the lack of unity in not a few fundamental aspects of the faith. Unfortunately, a unitary approach is lacking in the German episcopate that requires a clarification as soon as possible that avoids serious consequences for both the faith and the Church in Germany.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma