Pope says critics 'exploited' predecessor's death

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, Undefined - Pope Francis said Sunday that some sectors of the Catholic Church had "exploited" the death of his predecessor Benedict XVI to criticise his own papacy.

Pope Francis addresses the media while aboard the plane from Juba to Rome on February 5, 2023 returning from he Pope's visit to Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Tiziana FABI / POOL / AFP

Benedict resigned as pontiff in 2013 but, up until his death on December 31, he remained a figurehead for some conservative members of the church who oppose Francis' more liberal outlook.

"Some stories going around, that Benedict was embittered by what the new pope did, are 'a game of telephone'," (lost in translation), Pope Francis told reporters on his plane back from South Sudan.

"In fact, I consulted Benedict on some decisions to be taken. And he agreed, he agreed.

"I believe that Benedict's death has been exploited by people who want to add grist to their mill.

"And those who exploit such a good person, such a man of God... well I would say they are unethical people, they are people belonging to a party, not to the Church."

He did not name anyone, but Benedict's closest aide, Georg Gaenswein, published a book after his death and gave media interviews revealing tensions between the former pontiff and Francis.

In particular, Gaenswein described Benedict's dismay at the decision by Francis to relax restrictions on the use of the traditional Latin mass.

Francis said he remained sanguine about his critics -- "these things will fall on their own" -- but said he wanted to stress that the ex-pontiff "was not embittered".