Pope says Church conservatives exploited death of ex-pope Benedict

Funeral of former Pope Benedict at the Vatican

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) - Pope Francis has said some in the conservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church had exploited the death of the former pope, Benedict, in an unethical way for their own gains.

Speaking to reporters aboard the plane returning from a trip to Africa on Sunday, Francis also rejected claims by some conservatives that Benedict, who died on Dec. 31, was embittered by some of current pope's decisions.

"I think the death of Benedict was instrumentalised by some people," he said, using the Italian phrase "guiding water to one's own mill", meaning people who want to benefit themselves at the expense of others.

"Those people do not have ethics. They are people of a party, not of the Church," he said, in a conversation that included a condemnation of a law criminalising LGBTQ people, and his travel plans.

Francis used a Spanish expression "Cuento Chino", meaning tall tales, to describe allegations by some conservatives that Benedict was saddened by some of Francis' decisions after Benedict resigned in 2013.

The pope said he often consulted Benedict in the nearly 10 years between his resignation in 2013 and his death.

Francis did not name any of the conservatives he was referring to.

Immediately after Benedict's funeral on Jan. 5, the late ex pope's long-time secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, published a book about what he said were strains while two men wearing white lived in the Vatican.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, a conservative ally of Benedict who has criticised Francis, also wrote a book in January.

(This story has been corrected to fix date of Benedict's death)

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robert Birsel)