Letter #10: The Gaenswein Interview

gaenswein

 

“I can tell you a nice story. Pope Francis granted a lengthy interview to Jesuit Padre Spadaro who is the director of the most important Jesuit magazine Civiltà cattolica in August, which was published too, so after Padre Spadaro had given Pope Francis the first issue of this magazine, the Pope gave it to me telling me to take it to Pope Benedict, asking him to read it and write down any criticism he may have on the first page after the table of contents, which was blank. So that’s what I did. Three days later he (Pope Benedict) told me he had written four pages – not by hand of course, but dictated to Sister Birgit [Birgit Wansing, the Pope's longtime collaborator] – not inside the magazine but in a letter, and he asked me to take this letter to Pope Francis. So he had done his homework! He (Pope Benedict) had read it and — obliging the request of his successor – had written some thoughts and comments on certain statements and questions where he thinks some additional comment could be made in another context. Of course I am not saying what they were but they were certainly interesting!

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, personal secretary to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and also to Pope Francis (and thus a living “link” between the two men) during a German television interview broadcast on March 13, 2014 (eight days ago)

Here is a link to the orginal interview, in German (worth taking a look at):http://www.forum.georgganswein.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4022#p10801

 

An Interesting Interview

 

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, the Prefect of the Pontifical Household under Pope Francis and long-time (and still) personal secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (photo above, taken during the interview) has raised eyebrows with an interview he granted last week to German television.

One passage — the one cited above — attracted particular attention.

gaenswein2Gaenswein revealed, for the first time, that Pope Emeritus Benedict, six months ago, wrote out and sent to Pope Francis (at Pope Francis’ request) four pages of comments on the long interview Pope Francis granted in August to the Italian editor of Jesuit magazineCiviltà cattolica, Father Antonio Spadaro(photo).

What some observers would give to know the contents of those four pages!

But the actual words Benedict wrote remain secret.

 

So, what are we to make of this news?

 

Note again — and this is important — this “commentary” or “critique” was not offered spontaneously by Benedict, but specifically sought by Pope Francis himself.

So Benedict was responding, quite generously, to a request for assistance.

Evidently — and this is my own interpretation — Francis wished for an intelligent, authoritative opinion on how the complex issues and teachings he had discussed in the Spadaro interview might be spoken about in unambiguous ways, not open to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

 

What does this show?

 

It shows that there is more continuity between the pontificates than many in the mainstream media, who continually suggest that Pope Francis is setting a “new course” for the Church and “breaking” with Pope Benedict is a “revolutionary” way, would like.
Still, the very thought that one Pope could “critique” another does raise again the (at least theoretical) danger discussed widely in the days after Pope Benedict resigned last year: that “two living Popes” (even is one has clearly renounced the active aspect of his ministry) could, in theory, become “two sources of ultimate authority,” thus dividing the Church — might, under some (admittedly unlikely) circumstances, become an actual danger to Church unity.

In this context, this recent revelation by Monsignor Gaenswwin, tangentially, raised again the question of the wisdom and potential risk of any Pope’s decision to resign rather than to remain in office, even under extraordinarily difficult conditions, until death, as has been customary in the Catholic tradition.

So, we know that Francis and Benedict have met, have spoken on the phone and have even “worked together” as in the case of the first encyclical of Pope Francis (Francis called it an encyclical “of four hands” to show how much he depended on Benedict’s unpublished draft). Now we have evidence of an even closer “collaboration” between the two Popes in which the former Pope gives thoughtful advice to the present Pope.

Some people have criticized Gaenswein for granting this interview. A particularly hard critique came from The Tablet in London. (Link: http://www.thetablet.co.uk/blogs/1/329/g-nswein-the-mask-slips) Elena Curti writes: “Gänswein revels in the fact that he has had sight of Benedict’s comments and carried them off to Pope Francis, though he says that, of course, he wouldn’t dream of divulging them. Isn’t revealing their existence in itself a breach of confidence to both his masters?”

I disagree. In revealing this, Gaenswein has allowed us an important, and comforting, glimpse of how Benedict is supporting Pope Francis in the very difficult task Francis faces in these difficult times. We should be grateful to Gaenswein for this interview.

 

 

The complete text of the March 13, 2014 Gaenswein interview

Interview with German television ZDF

What is Pope Francis’ style like for you?
Archbishop Georg Gaenswein: Naturally it’s an additional challenge which was a bit difficult at the beginning of course. But because this spontaneity is something we are accustomed to, we look for what is happening and act accordingly as much as possible. As you can see for yourself he is a very direct, very uncomplicated and very authentic man. That goes for encounters with large groups, with the masses, just as it does for private audiences or individual groups. He is the same now as bishop of Rome and Pope as he was as archbishop of Buenos Aires. To me, this comes across as very authentic and very honest, it is not a way of strategially trying to gain points, the Pope actually is the way he appears.

Is the dual role of private secretary to Benedict XVI and collaborator of Pope Francis difficult for you?
Gaenswein: At the beginning it was a great challenge because I had the experience of private secretary but not that of prefect. Now to bind these two realities together has been a new experience for me, a challenge also, but in the meantime I have, I think I may say, been able to come to terms with this fairly well. Since the two Popes have a very good relationship there is no “atmospheric” difficulty for me either to reconcile both realities. I perceive no problems whatsoever, no conflicting goals, no conflict of loyalties, like I often had to read at the beginning “that I could not serve two masters,” that’s beside the point: I’m not serving two masters, I enjoy fulfilling my tasks and I try to do them both justice to the best of my ability.

Does Pope Francis change the Papacy through his style ?
Gaenswein:Not the essential Papacy itself I don’t think. What he does change and has already changed are certain lifestyle-related forms. For instance the fact that he is living in Santa Marta, he has found a way of “vita” that he already had as an archbishop. As for the place (of living) and certain aspects of form of the Papacy he didn’t want to align himself with his predecessors, those are indeed new experiences and we will only be able to see with time what they bring and in which direction they point. When you mention a „normalization“ that would imply that it wasn’t “normal” before. I don’t think everyday life under his predecessor was in need of a normalization because it was totally normal, at least that’s what I felt and I believe everybody who came into contact with Pope Benedict did as well. Individual forms are individual forms, also and especially where the Papacy is concerned. You have to allow a Pope sufficient scope to do certain things differently than his predecessors, there are 267 Popes and I believe none was the same as his predecessor. You should compare Popes to the successor of Peter not to their predecessors, or you get into difficulty. Also, I’m matter-of-fact and relaxed if Pope Francis carries his own bag and does some things differently, these are decisions he thinks are right and are not for me to comment.

Do you discuss the Church in Germany with Pope Francis ?
Gaenswein: When you meet every day and the occasion arises, for instance through visits by German bishops, it’s natural that you discuss Germany, the situation, the Church or people. I have a principle: Not to drag a certain situation in by the head and shoulders, but to grasp it when it arises. Saying that it’s true though that Pope Francis’ interest is not focused on Germany, even though he is very well informed about the situation in Germany and of course takes an interest especially in the Church’s situation in Germany.

What are the differences and similarities of the two Popes?
Gaenswein: Clearly they are in accordance with regard to the substance. There is a marked and visible difference with regard to presentation, to gestures, in the way Pope Francis approaches people. It’s a difference that’s not worse or better, it’s simply a difference that suits his disposition. Each Pope brings his character to the Papacy. A certain character is bestowed by grace and if the Lord has given him this character we can only say Deo gratias ["to God be thanks"].

What is the contact between the two Popes like ?
Gaenswein: There is contact, they also write to each other. I can tell you a nice story. Pope Francis granted a lengthy interview to Jesuit Padre Spadaro who is the director of the most important Jesuit magazine Civiltà cattolica in August, which was published too, so after Padre Spadaro had given Pope Francis the first issue of this magazine, the Pope gave it to me telling me to take it to Pope Benedict, asking him to read it and write down any criticism he may have on the first page after the table of contents which was blank. So that’s what I did. Three days later he (Pope Benedict) told me he had written four pages – not by hand of course, but dictated to Sister Birgit [Wahnsing, the Pope's longtime collaborator] – not inside the magazine but in a letter, and he asked me to take this letter to Pope Francis. So he had done his homework! He (Pope Benedict) had read it and — obliging the request of his successor – had written some thoughts and comments on certain statements and questions where he thinks some additional comment could be made in another context. Of course I am not saying what they were but they were certainly interesting ! To return to your question: There is a lively exchange between them, in writing and of course by phone, or on birthdays and name days, it was Pope Francis’ birthday on17th December and he wanted to invite Pope Benedict for lunch at Santa Marta, but it was postponed till after Christmas because at that time Santa Marta was very full, and as you know Pope Francis dines in the dining hall at Santa Marta, and with all these people, seeing two Popes lunch together – not easy to swallow for everybody!

What is Pope Benedict’s daily routine today?
Gaenswein: The Vatican covers a territory of 44 hectares. The biggest part is gardens, trees, bushes and on the other side there’s a little grove. There on the highest point almost there’s a house which for almost 20 years housed religious sisters, changing every five years. Then after Pope Benedict had decided what he wanted to do when the time came for a new order to take up residence it was left vacant. And he lives in this house, Mater Ecclesiae, as always a beautiful pious name, together with the four Memores and myself. So the team has not changed much. Only Monsignor Alfred, my colleague – as is the tradition for the second secretary – was called to serve the new Pope and is now one of his two secretaries. So it’s the five of us ; we know one another well enough so it’s not very difficult to get along. During the day there is also Schönstatt Sister Birgit, who has served Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict for 30 years, and the six of us bravely muddle through life. What does he do? He starts with Holy Mass in the morning where I concelebrate, then an act of thanksgiving and the divine office, then breakfast, after that I “descend from the mountain” and work here (the Apostolic Palace) while he in the mornings has three main activities. He studies and reads, takes care of his correspondence – so much comes in that sometimes I hardly know how to deal with it all – and he regularly receives visitors. A great number of people wish to meet him: Former collaborators, bishops, cardinals, people from Germany, who are asking for a meeting. Then there is lunch when I “climb up” again to the monastery, after that we take a little walk in the little grove because it’s hidden from view.

 

It’s all very beautiful but it has one drawback: From St. Peter’s cupola you can see straight to our house and the cupola is the ideal place for – well – everything! Then after that a little siesta and shortly after 4 pm we take another walk in the grove where we pray the rosary together. Following this he retires to his study which is somewhat smaller but where he feels comfortable. He begins the afternoon with prayer and then does some more work, he also listens to some music. Dinner is at 8.30 pm and usually we end the day by watching the Italian equivalent of the German “tagesschau” which is called “telegiornale” [the evening news show] – twice as long but half the news value unfortunately! We the go for a short walk on the rooftop terrace. After 7 pm the cupola is closed so he can walk there without being seen. After this he retires and I can do my own work.

When did Benedict XVI tell you that he was going to renounce his office?
Gaenswein: For reasons of discretion I won’t tell you when he told me. He told me early enough, everybody wants to know when that was. It was long before he appointed me bishop and prefect, the episcopal ordination was on 6th January 2013 in St. Peter’s Basilica. My first reaction of course was “Impossible! You mustn’t do that!” Rather reduce the schedule, especially travels and things that are physically challenging also, the visit to Cuba and Mexico last year strained him a lot, let’s not forget he was 85 years old then.

 

When he told me what he was planning to do the decision was already taken. He was communicating a decision to me. And of course he “stitched up” my mouth as it were under the pledge of secrecy, and I didn’t tell anybody. But these months beforehand, knowing what would happen, were not easy. The actual day when he was going to announce the renunciation and the day of sede vacante were not yet known at that moment

How do you view Benedict’s renunciation after a year?
Gaenswein: This step was surprising for the whole world, both inside and outside the Vatican. However I think the term “desacralization” of the Papacy is wrong. You have to differentiate between the Papacy as an institution and the person of the incumbent. It certainly was a revolutionary step. Very often the talk is of revolution in the Vatican after the conclave at the beginning of the new pontificate. It was the decision by Pope Benedict to renounce the office of the successor of Peter that was truly revolutionary. That was the decisive factor. And it’s only now that we see the importance and huge opportunities that have been opened up by this step. As I have said before it was not easy for me personally, but the question is not whether it’s easy but rather that I have to accept and come to terms with this decision. And in this respect also I’m at peace with myself.