VATICAN CITY – 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.
Francis received a draft of the interview to vet before publication, but it's unclear whether Benedict saw that draft or the published text. As a result, it's unclear if any of Benedict's suggestions impacted the final version.
Regardless, 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 and told him: "'Bring this to Pope Benedict; you will see that the first page after the contents is empty. Pope Benedict should write there everything that he has in the way of critiques when he has read it and give it back to me.'
"Three days later, he said to me, `I have four pages here ... in a letter, and please give this letter to Pope Francis,"' Gaenswein recalled. "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.
"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.