VATICAN CITY — The unusual nature of Thursday’s funeral for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, presided over by his successor, Pope Francis, only heightened curiosity about what course Francis would take to honor Benedict. Would he give his predecessor the simple send-off he had requested, while managing not to offend the church’s conservative wing, which wanted much more for their departed standard-bearer?
Francis opted for a homily that reflected his own vision of the Catholic Church, but not everyone was satisfied with his approach. Michael Hesemann, a biographer and friend of Benedict, called it “a little bit standard,” and a theologian and writer in Pennsylvania described it as “a kind of slap.”
“You could have given the same homily for anybody, any cardinal, any bishop or even the butcher next door,” Mr. Hesemann said.
To some American Catholics, the homily’s brevity and impersonality were seen as a snub from a pope who has moved to undo many of Benedict’s signature priorities. Benedict was a guiding star for conservative Catholics in the United States, who viewed him as a leading figure for a kind of doctrinal commitment and rigor they saw lacking in the church under Francis.
Francis paid respects to Benedict’s having lived the gospel “for his entire life” by repeatedly citing his predecessor’s words. Francis reflected the theologian’s core belief of putting Jesus at the center of life by meditating on how Jesus put himself in God’s hands.
Above all, those close to Francis said, the homily centered on a bishop, and pope’s, core role as a pastor — something Francis himself holds dear — above the old church rituals, the so-called smells and bells, adored by traditionalists.
“God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompanies and entrusts to him the life of the one who was their pastor,” Francis said of Benedict’s final passage.
“The Holy Father gave a beautiful homily reflecting on the mission of a pastor, in closest imitation of Christ” said Cardinal Michael Czerny of Canada, a close adviser to Francis. He added that the pope concluded “this most beautiful spiritual portrait” of a devoted pastor by applying it “wholeheartedly to his predecessor.”
“So please don’t be disappointed for the lack of a eulogy or panegyric,” Cardinal Czerny said. “That’s for another time and place, not a Eucharist of Christian burial.”
“I thought this was a kind of slap at Benedict,” said Larry Chapp, a theologian and writer who has a small farm in Pennsylvania, described himself as a “relatively conservative Catholic” and runs in a circle where Benedict is revered as a great hero of the faith.
Mr. Chapp, who arrived in Rome on Monday, viewed the funeral with the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, which he described as quiet and somber. As he reflected, he softened his view, noting that Francis is not known as a “thunderous orator” in any context.
Still, he remained disappointed by the lack of personal insight from a pope who has spoken warmly of his predecessor in other settings.
“I’ve heard better funeral homilies in parishes for regular people,” he said. “To my mind, it was almost as if Pope Francis had gone to his files and looked under the file ‘funeral homily.’”
Others were harsher. In a blog post for The American Conservative, the Eastern Orthodox and former Catholic writer Rod Dreher called the homily “an act of disrespect explicable only as an exercise of banked contempt.”
“He could have delivered this homily for his butler,” Mr. Dreher wrote.
To many, Francis’ approach seemed paltry in comparison to Benedict’s homily at the funeral of Pope John Paul II: an eloquent and full-throated ode to the life and legacy of a larger-than-life figure who ran the church for more than a quarter century.
And beyond the homily, the service itself was shorter and simpler than a typical papal funeral, though the relative simplicity reflected Benedict’s wishes.
Michael Heinlein, a writer who is working on a biography of Cardinal Francis E. George, said, “There was a certain sense that the Mass was rushed, that it was bare bones.” He watched the funeral live from his home in Indiana, where the proceedings started at 3:30 a.m.
Mr. Heinlein, who found the homily underwhelming in the moment, too, said he would return to it to read and reflect on it more deeply later. “When I look at the text, I’m sure I’ll see new things in it,” he said.
Mr. Hesemann, the biographer, said, “Benedict would have deserved the same category of funeral as John Paul II — I’m a little bit sad that there were shortages in the ceremony itself.”
As he walked into the Vatican after the service, he added that while Benedict “would have been the first to have said I only want a simple funeral,” he deserved more.
But he allowed that the former pope would not have been hurt: “He was the most forgiving person.”
Jason Horowitz reported from Vatican City, and Ruth Graham from Dallas.