The most senior British official there told the BBC that despite his retirement, Pope Benedict was still a “strong influence” at the Vatican.
The remarks by Archbishop Paul Gallagher came as the current pope, Francis, finalises preparations for the extraordinary occasion of a pontiff preside at his predecessor’s burial.
For the first time in over a decade, the Vatican’s halls will only have one man wearing white after the funeral of former pope Benedict XVI on Thursday.
A top Vatican official speaking openly about the connection between the two popes is unusual.
The archbishop, who has served as the Vatican’s foreign secretary for a large portion of Pope Francis’ pontificate, stated, “I think it is unavoidable that the fact Pope Benedict has been living during these years of Pope Francis’ pontificate – it does have an influence.”
“It hasn’t, in my opinion, hindered Pope Francis in any way. Despite everything he has done, said, and planned to do, your predecessor still has a strong presence “He spoke openly.
Pope Benedict retired in 2013, making history as the first pope to do so in more than 600 years.
According to Archbishop Gallagher, Pope Francis’ experience was comparable to that of many other persons who work in predecessors’ shadows and are held up against them.
Whether Benedict wanted it or not, observers of Vatican activities during this odd period claim that Benedict ended up serving as a focal point for internal criticism of Pope Francis.
In the Church, there have undoubtedly been those who have compared Pope Francis’s actions to those of Benedict, according to Archbishop Gallagher.
The archbishop claimed that although the two popes’ relationship had been cordial, detractors of the present pope had attempted to take advantage of their differences.
The health of Pope Francis, who has postponed several international travels due to illness and spent the majority of other journeys in a wheelchair, has been a topic of significant controversy in this country during the last year.
Although Pope Francis stated he was willing to retire if he thought he could not perform the responsibilities of the position as he would want, there was conjecture that he was hesitant to do so while his predecessor was still in office.
The present Pope may now be able to explore all choices more freely thanks to recent developments, according to his foreign secretary, Archbishop Gallagher.
“It would be a little bit challenging to handle three popes. But now that Pope Benedict has departed for the Lord, I trust that Pope Francis will uphold the values he has established, continuing in this vocation for as long as he feels capable “said he.
He made it clear that he didn’t believe a resignation decision was in any way close to being made.
The number of people who have visited the Vatican to pay their respects to Pope Benedict while he is lying in state has far surpassed the number the Vatican had initially predicted, but it still pales in comparison to the sizable crowds that came here in 2005 following the passing of the well-liked Pope John Paul II.
That is somewhat attributable, as Archbishop Gallagher recognises, to Benedict XVI’s papal style, in which the pope is seen as more of a thinker than a skilled pastor or politician.
Nevertheless, the archbishop expressed his belief that the writings and theological efforts of the Pope Emeritus would continue to be studied for a very long time.
The complex legacy of the previous pontiff has also received a lot of attention lately, notably the problem of how the perpetrators of sex assault were handled.
The late Pope began programmes that Pope Francis has since continued, according to Archbishop Gallagher. “I think that the evaluation [of Benedict XVI’s legacy on abuse] is obviously going to be critical, but I do believe that the election of Pope Benedict was a game changer in how the Church looked at the reality of abuse in the church,” he said.
I don’t believe anyone in this room would declare that the task has been finished, regardless of whether enough was done at the correct speed.