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Pope accuses critics of exploiting Pope Benedict XVI's death

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis accused some of his critics Sunday of taking advantage of retired Pope Benedict XVI’s death to score ideological points in the latest salvo in the partisan divide of the Catholic Church.

During an airborne news conference returning from South Sudan, Francis was asked about the criticism that accelerated after the Dec. 31 death of Benedict, who lived in the Vatican as an emeritus pope alongside Francis for the first 10 years of his pontificate.

In the days and weeks after his death, Benedict’s longtime secretary and some conservative cardinals came out with books, interviews and memos criticizing Francis’ papacy. The commentary had the effect of pitting the recently departed former pope, who remained a point of reference for conservatives and traditionalists, against the current pope.

Francis insisted that rumors of differences with Benedict, or that Benedict was bitter about some decisions he had taken, were false and that the two consulted frequently and were in agreement.

“I think Benedict’s death was instrumentalized," Francis said. “People wanted to score points for their own side. And the people who instrumentalize such a good person, so close to God, I would almost say ... those people don’t have ethics, they are people who belong to a party, not to the church.”

To drive home the point that Benedict was above such partisanship, Francis recalled how the emeritus pope handled a complaint that he had received against Francis over his support for legal protections for same-sex partnerships.

When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio supported Argentine legislation that would allow people in stable relationships, including same-sex unions, to enjoy inheritance and other rights. He backed such legislation as an alternative to Argentine proposals to legalize gay marriage, which the Catholic Church opposes.

Bergoglio’s position was known at the time but he articulated it publicly during a 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa.

Francis revealed Sunday that someone who fancied himself “a great theologian” had filed a complaint with Benedict about Francis' position but that the emeritus pope “didn’t get scared.”

“He called four top-notch cardinal theologians and said, ‘Explain this to me.’”

“They explained it to him, and that’s how the story ended,” Francis said. “It’s an anecdote to show how Pope Benedict moved when there was a complaint.”

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.