VATICAN CITY/ROME/BERLIN: Pope Francis is preparing for a historic encounter with his predecessor Benedict XVI Saturday – the first time in church history that a pontiff will come face to face with a former one, with both expected to wear the papal white vestments.
Francis’ papacy is likely to be highly influenced by the vast intellectual legacy left by his predecessor, experts say, even though the memory of the German pope emeritus appears to have faded from the minds of many ordinary pilgrims.
Postcards on sale at Francis’ inauguration mass pictured the smiling new Argentinian pontiff alongside the much-loved John Paul II – the pope in between, Benedict, had apparently been axed.
“This papacy will be rooted in Benedict’s teachings. He has been the main intellectual force in the church for the last 25 years and his legacy will continue to shape it,” said Samuel Gregg from the U.S.-based Aston Institute religious think tank.
Despite a stark difference in style, there have already been similarities between speeches given by Latin America’s first pope and Benedict.
Francis has promised “friendship and respect” for all faiths and has said he feels “close” to nonbelievers.
Benedict was a keen promoter of interreligious dialogue and pushed on several occasions for a greater dialogue with atheists.
The 76-year-old Argentine pope also praised people who “are in a search for truth, for goodness and for beauty” – Benedict insisted repeatedly on the “beauty and truth” of the Christian word.
When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio condemned “careerism” in the Roman Catholic Church in a book of interviews, according to extracts published Thursday from an Italian translation due out this month.
“When the pope was a terrestrial and spiritual king, the intrigues of the court got mixed up with everything else. But are they not still getting mixed up?” he was quoted as saying in 2010 in the extracts published by Italian newsweekly Panorama.
“Yes, all this is still happening because there are the ambitions of men of the church, there is unfortunately the sin of careerism,” he said.
The book “Between Heaven and Earth” is a combination of interviews with Bergoglio and his friend Abraham Skorka, who is also from Buenos Aires and is rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in the Argentine capital.
Bergoglio also said that the church should “dialogue” with political life but be careful not to take sides and do “underhand deals” with politicians.
“Whatever a religious minister does is a political act but some also get mixed up with politics,” he said, distinguishing between a narrow and a wider interpretation of the word “politics.”
“Religion is a treasure at the service of the people but if it starts getting mixed up with politics and imposing things in an underhand way then it becomes an instrument of nefarious power,” he added.
Pope Francis was criticized by leftists earlier this month for his alleged actions during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” in which 30,000 people died or disappeared from 1976 to 1983.
Francis came under intense scrutiny for allegedly playing a role in the arrest of two Jesuit priests, Francisco Jalics and the late Orlando Yorio.
Germany-based Jalics who was kidnapped and tortured during Argentina’s military dictatorship said he and his fellow abductee priest were not denounced to the right-wing junta by Pope Francis.
He issued a statement Wednesday saying: “These are now the facts.
“Orlando Yorio and I were not reported by Father Bergoglio,” Jalics said, referring to Pope Francis.
“I myself formerly tended to believe that we were reported. At the end of the 90s however it became clear to me after numerous conversations that this assumption was baseless,” Jalics said in the statement published on the German Jesuits’ website.
Claims against Pope Francis were also rejected by Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel who said Francis was “not complicit” with Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship and pursued a “silent diplomacy.”
“He was not complicit with the dictatorship, he did not collaborate,” the Argentine prominent human rights activist, who campaigned against the junta and won the Nobel Prize in 1980, said after meeting with Latin America’s first pope Thursday.
“He preferred a silent diplomacy, inquiring about the disappeared and the prisoners,” he added.
While 85-year-old Benedict blamed modern society’s obsession with consumerism, speed and personal ambition for a loss of faith, Francis has warned against reducing human beings “to what they produce and what they consume.”
Religious expert Peter Seewald, who published a book of interviews with Benedict, told the Corriere della Sera daily that “it was clear from the first that the new pope wanted to position himself in his predecessor’s tracks.”
“Benedict prepared the terrain and opened the way. Francis will continue to follow in his path, giving priority in particular to new evangelization and the revelation of a message of love and brotherhood,” he said.
Following his resignation last month for age reasons, Benedict retired to the papal summer palace of Castel Gandolfo to live “hidden from the world” – though the Vatican indicated he could provide “spiritual guidance” to Francis.
The pope and former pontiff will live a stone’s throw away from each other within the walls of the Vatican when Benedict moves into a former monastery next month.