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Pope Benedict had 'undeniable' presence on Francis, says archbishop

After Thursday's burial of former pope Benedict XVI, there will be just one man wearing white in the corridors of the Vatican for the first time in nearly a decade.

It is rare for a senior Vatican figure to have spoken frankly about the relationship between the two popes.

"I think it is inevitable that the fact Pope Benedict has been living during these years of Pope Francis's pontificate - it does have an effect," said the archbishop, who has been the Vatican's foreign secretary for much of the current papacy.

"I do not think it has obstructed Pope Francis in any way. He has done and said and decided what he wanted to do, but it is a powerful presence of your predecessor," he said candidly.

In 2013, Pope Benedict became the first pope in more than 600 years to step down.

Archbishop Gallagher said that for Pope Francis, that was similar to the experience many other people go through doing a job in the shadow of a predecessor - and being compared to them.

Observers of Vatican affairs during this unusual time suggest that whether Benedict courted it or not, he became something of a lightning rod for internal criticism of Pope Francis.

"Obviously there have been, in the Church, people who have looked to Benedict to contrast certain decisions that have been made by Pope Francis," said Archbishop Gallagher.

The relationship between the two popes had been excellent, said the archbishop, but critics of the current pope had tried to exploit their differences.

Over the past year, there has been much discussion here about the health of Pope Francis, who has cancelled some foreign trips on health grounds and spent most of his time in a wheelchair during other visits.

There was speculation that, although Pope Francis said he was prepared to step down if he felt he could not carry out the duties of the role in the way he would like to, he was reluctant to consider resigning while his predecessor was around.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is welcomed by Pope Francis at St Peter's Square, Vatican, 2014