Recently Msgr. Georg has seemed more serene. On public occasions, he has at last begun to smile again. It certainly was not easy for the Pope’s secretary to address the “Vatileaks” storm which broke in May. Now, appointed archbishop and promoted to prefect of the papal household while still remaining Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein is closer to Benedict XVI than ever. The appointment as prefect confirms that the Pope trusts Gänswein, wants him at his side, and wishes to give him still greater responsibilities.
At the time of discovery of the theft of the documents, the Pope showed his complete confidence in Gänswein, and it was the latter who handled the difficult situation. He asked to be questioned in the investigation and to testify at trial. It must not have been easy. But Msgr. Georg took his own responsibilities, and now that the major part of the story is over, everything can go back to before May 21. Benedict now wants Msgr. Georg to run his agenda, not only private but also public.
Gänswein, who over the years has managed to develop a public role although with perfect discretion, already has several tasks.
First, he is member of the Board of Directors of the Ratzinger Foundation in the Vatican. The foundation manages Benedict XVI’s copyrights and awards the Ratzinger Prize, called the “Nobel Prize for Theology.” Second, Gänswein follows the activities of the Schülerkreis, the alumni of Professor Ratzinger. Third, Gänswein is watching over the Pope’s legacy. Recently, he helped inaugurate the house-museum of Joseph Ratzinger in Pentling, a suburb of Regensburg. The Pope had donated his old house to the Pope Benedict XVI Foundation, and a year and a half ago, the Pope’s brother handed over the keys to the curators of the small museum. Together with Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and editor of the Complete Works of Joseph Ratzinger, Msgr. Georg was at the opening.
Gänswein has edited several books: Benedict XVI Urbi et Orbi, dedicated to the Pope’s trips; Catholic: First-hand Knowledge, texts on faith and the Church; and, in March for the Pope’s 85th birthday, Benedict XVI: Famous People on the Pope, a collage of famous German personalities who tell “their” Benedict XVI stories.
In February 2011 Gänswein was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Perugia. In his talk on the Holy See’s 1929 Concordat with the Italian government — his degree is in canon law — he made interesting suggestions, including a proposal for a particular legislation for the city of Rome, city of the Pope and of Christianity.
He has a special passion for children’s literature. In addition to Why the Pope Wears Red Shoes, a book of answers to the questions put to Msgr. Georg by German school children, Gänswein wrote the preface to Joseph and Chico, a children’s book in which the Ratzingers’ cat in Pentling tells the story of the Pope for children.
Recently, at the release of The Mystery of a Small Pond, an illustrated fairy tale, he spoke about himself, which is extremely rare. “Twenty-eight years have passed since I was ordained a priest and became assistant pastor in a small town in the Black Forest, where I come from, in the southwest of Germany close to France,” he said. “In this small town, Oberkirch, there were many children, and for the assistant pastor it was an important task to take care of them. It also became a commitment of the heart…
“I must make a confession: it is never easy to prepare a sermon, sometimes you do it well, sometimes less well, but to prepare a homily for children is exhausting! It is difficult because the children… understand immediately if you are superficial, and they do not forgive you if you are not sincere. If you are sincere they will forgive you everything, but if you’re not honest, you will have lost them once and for all. The best aspect of preparing and giving a homily for children is that it is also for adults. I have never seen adults so attentive as when they are present at the Mass for children.”
Gänswein has been a collaborator of the Pope’s since Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Of that time he has special memories: “The Holy Father has a great sweetness. In the Congregation, I had many contacts with him in our daily work. And today, when I see how Pope Benedict XVI treats people in different circumstances, not only in audiences or on public occasions but also in private, it is evident that he always has the same attitude, and it is delicacy and sweetness. He never said: this is wrong, you are wrong. Although maybe you are. Rather, he makes a proposal: you could do this or that. It’s actually a severe criticism in principle, but ‘suavissime in modo,’ very gently conveyed. That I can testify to, and I invite you to make this experience,” Msgr. Georg said, smiling.
But how does the Pope find the time to do everything? “This is of course a secret I cannot reveal,” the new prefect said.
“One thing is clear, however,” he continued. “For many people writing is a burden, a great challenge. Pope Benedict, however, when he writes, finds freedom and force. It’s something I have observed in the last seven years with great gratitude and surprise.”