The man who serves two popes has revealed that retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote four pages of critique and commentary on Pope Francis's landmark interview in which he blasted the church's obsession with "small-minded" rules.
Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, Benedict's personal secretary and head of Francis' papal household, told German broadcaster ZDF that Francis had solicited Benedict's input on the interview, which was published in September in 16 Jesuit journals around the globe and helped define Francis' agenda.
The Jesuit priest who conducted the interview, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, said Tuesday that he gave the first printed copy of the interview to Francis on the day it was published. Francis gave that version to Benedict to critique, Spadaro told The Associated Press.
Though Benedict's comments had no impact on the published article, the revelation is further evidence of the remarkable and unprecedented collaboration between the two popes, who stay in touch by phone, in person and by sending notes back and forth across the Vatican gardens via Gaenswein.
Gaenswein told ZDF that Francis had given him a first copy of the interview to forward on to Benedict, and received a four-page letter from the retired pope three days later.
"He did his homework — he read it and, in accordance with his successor's request, he did indeed offer some thoughts and some remarks on certain comments or certain questions on which he thought something additional could perhaps be said in another place," Gaenswein recalled.
"Of course I won't say what, but that was interesting," Gaenswein said.
Francis has said he relies on his predecessor's sage advice and has increasingly coaxed Benedict out of his secluded retirement to participate more in the public life of the church