In a papal first, the in-flight press conference included the participation of the pope’s Anglican counterpart, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.
Welby and Greenshields had joined Pope Francis in South Sudan for an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace and reconciliation. The two Christian leaders responded to some, but not all, of the questions on the papal flight.
Near the end of the nearly hour-long press conference, Pope Francis was asked if his papal ministry had become more difficult since Benedict’s death in light of growing division in the Church.
Francis reiterated that he was able to speak about everything with Benedict, even to change his own mind.
“He was always by my side, supporting me. And if he had any difficulty he would tell me and we would talk and there was no problem,” the pope said.
He went on to describe a moment in which it appeared that someone may have wanted to pit Francis and the pope emeritus against each other.
Pope Francis recalled once referencing civil solidarity pact, a law in France that allows nontraditional civil unions between two people to receive certain benefits without all of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage. Francis had suggested this type of partnership as a possible solution for homosexual couples for the purpose of “securing property.”
After Pope Francis had made these comments, “a person who thinks he is a great theologian, through a friend of Pope Benedict, went to him and made a complaint against me,” the pope said.
Benedict’s response was not to be “shocked,” the pope added, but to call together “four top theological cardinals” to explain the concept to him.
“And that’s how the story ended,” he said. “[This was] an anecdote to see how Benedict moved when there were complaints.”