Benedict on Francis: 'a man of practical reform'

'Last Testaments' will be available in English in November 2016
'Last Testaments' will be available in English in November 2016

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has credited Pope Francis’ experience as a Jesuit Superior and an archbishop for his organisational skills – something that he says he lacked during his papacy. His comments were published yesterday in his autobiography, Benedict XVI: Final Conversations, a series of long interviews by German journalist and papal confidante Peter Seewald. The book has been published initially in Italian and German; the English version will be available in late November under the title Last Testaments.

The 89-year-old pontiff was the first pope to resign from office in modern history. Since stepping down from the papacy in 2013, he has continued to live in the grounds of the Vatican but is now unable to walk unassisted and is blind in one eye. And Fr Federico Lombardi SJ – his former spokesman and Director of the Holy See’s Press Office – says this book, described by some as a living obituary, is very important.  “The last time of his life is preparation (for) the encounter with God,” he told Vatican Radio. “This is a very important witness, profound, spiritual; a witness of faith.”

Benedict says he was initially shocked when he heard that Cardinal Jose Mario Bergoglio had been elected as pope. “No one expected him,” he told Peter Seewald in an interview. “When I first heard his name, I was unsure ... I knew him, naturally, but I did not think of him. In this sense it was a big surprise. I did not think that he was in the select group of candidates. But when I saw him speak on one hand with God, and on the other with people, I was truly content and happy.”

The soul to intervenePope Francis greets Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, June 2016: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano, handout

When the black smoke turns to white during the conclave, the retired pope – a self-avowed ‘news junkie’ – admitted he was “glued to the television to see who won”. In fact, he was so excited that he missed a phone call from the new pope who went on to address the crowds in St Peter's Square, asking them to pray for him and taking the name Francis. “What did touch me ... was that even before going out onto the loggia, he tried to phone me,” Benedict said.

In the new book, the Pope Emeritus says his feels his eight years in the papacy were a time of service but he candidly admits that he could have done better. “My weak point perhaps is a lack of resolve in governing and making decisions … Here, in reality, I am more a professor, one who reflects and meditates on spiritual questions. Practical governance was not my forte, and this certainly was a weakness.” These are areas, he goes on, to which Pope Francis is much more suited. Describing him as “a man of practical reform”, he says the Argentinian has the soul to intervene and take measure of an organisation. “He was an archbishop for a long time, he knows the trade,” he told Seewald. “He was a superior of Jesuits and has the ability to put his hands to action in an organised way. I knew that this was not my strong point.”