"I applaud this initiative that seeks to oppose and react to the stupid prejudice according to which Pope Francis is only a practical man devoid of specific theological or philosophical formation, while I was only a theoretician of theology who understood little of the concrete life of a Christian today," the former Pope wrote in a letter issued on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Francis’ election.
Those traditionalists against the appointment of Francis have said that the Argentinian is destroying the Church with liberal theology, that he is too lenient on divorced Catholics and homosexuals and too defensive of migrants.
They feel Francis’ attempt to make the Church more inclusive and less condemning has brought about a weakening attention to moral issues while focusing more on social problems such as climate change, economic inequality and migration.
Pope Francis's predecessor has also disputed suggestions that the current Pontiff’s academic qualities were lacking and instead praised him as a ‘man of deep philosophical and theological formation’.
This letter, read at the presentation of volumes on the theology of Pope Francis, shows Pope Benedict XVI clearly distancing himself from those who stand against Francis.
Five years ago, Pope Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign. He continues to live in near-isolation in the Vatican and rarely makes public statements. In February, however, he broke his silence when he wrote a letter to an Italian news paper explaining he was “preparing for the journey home”.
This is not the first time Pope Francis has had to withstand criticisms from both the general public and others within the church.
In 2016, four cardinals issued a public challenge to the Pope over some of his teachings on family and, in particular, his thoughts on the possibility of letting Catholics - who have divorced and remarried in civil ceremonies - receive communion.
In 2017, dozens of conservative Catholic academics and members of the general public issued a 25-page letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy.
One other continued criticism of Francis is his handling of the sexual abuse scandal, an issue that haunted the church well before his election.
In one instance, Francis found himself under fire for initially defending a Chilean bishop who was accused of covering up abuse before a few days later deciding to send an investigator to look into the allegations.