Archbishop Georg Gänswein, 66, personal secretary to Pope Benedict XVI from 2003 until his death on December 31, 2022. Pope Francis asked Gänswein to meet with him yesterday morning. No details about the meeting of the two have been made public (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Preliminary note: “Less is more”
I just received the following note from a reader of these letters:
“I thank you for all your wonderful reports which are very carefully explained, etc. My problem is the length and the too many details. I wonder if it can be broken into several articles instead of one very long one. Few people have the time to read the whole thing because we also have other articles we read and work and household, etc.
I do not know if most readers share Ilonka’s problem, but I can understand it.
I too find the letters often very long, and I too wrestle with the details, sometimes dozens or hundreds of details, that emerge with every story.
So I will try to keep this problem in mind in the future.
I will try to shorten the letters, and give only the most relevant details, following a maxim my father taught me: “Less is more.”
Or, as he also said: “Short and sweet.”
Thank you for your understanding.—RM
Letter #10, 2023 Monday, January 9: Gänswein
The future of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the long-time personal secretary of Pope Benedict, is being decided in these days.
Yesterday, Gänswein, apparently summoned by Pope Francis, met privately with the Pope just four days after Pope Benedict’s funeral on January 5.
So, first point: the Vatican is “adjusting” to a new reality, which is that Pope Benedict has passed away, and there remains, for the first time in almost 10 years, only one Pope in the Vatican: Pope Francis.
The second point is that this is affecting Gänswein very personally right now. Will he be “exiled”? Sent to a small diocese in Germany, never to appear in the Vatican again? Or…?
But the deeper question is: will Francis (as most seem to expect) take this moment to settle old scores, punishing “opponents” and rewarding “friends”?
Or will Francis, perhaps, surprise the majority and take a different course, thinking of his primary, essential role as “Peter”: to preserve the unity of the Church?
Most observers think Francis was (probably) irritated with Gänswein in recent days because Gänswein gave several interviews in which — in addition to focusing on Benedict’s understanding of his life and work, which was to be expected, of course — he went a bit further and suggested that Pope Benedict, and he himself, had opposed decisions Francis had taken on some issues.
In particular: Gänswein depicted Pope Benedict as being (more or less) “heart-broken” due to the July 16, 2021 decision of Pope Francis, in his decree Traditionis custodes, to suppress the use of old Mass, effectively overturning the decision Benedict had taken in 2007 in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum to praise the old liturgy and allow it to be widely celebrated.
This seemed to set one Pope directly against the other, just 14 years apart (2007 to 2021).
And so it seemed, to many observers, to set up a possible challenge to other decisions of Pope Francis as well. (See, for example, this Italian report, and this, by French journalist Jean-Marie Guenois, link)
A general challenge to his magisterium.
A general challenge to him as Pope.
So most observers saw yesterday morning’s meeting as the occasion chosen by Francis to say “let’s stop this right now,” because he, perhaps rightly, fears the Church could be split between followers of the old Pope, Benedict, led in part by his secretary, Gänswein, and the reigning Pope, himself.
“Benedictines” and “Franciscans.”
But Cardinal Malcom Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, has just poured oil on these boiling waters, saying the pontificates of Benedict and Francis are not opposed, but “complementary.” (link)
And another commenter this morning, Luis Badilla of Il Sismografo, suggested that Francis may have called the meeting, not to express irritation, but to try to smooth over any differences and misunderstandings, as he looks toward a new stage of his papacy (with Benedict passing away), a new period of uncertain length, but a period he wishes to be characterized by unity, and not division, in the Church.
Time will tell…
Consider joining me at Easter in Italy. We begin in Assisi where we prepare for the Easter Triduum. We then go to Norcia and visit there with the Benedictine monks who have rebuilt a monastery after 200 years in the birthplace of St. Benedict. Then we go to Rome for the Easter vigil and Easter Sunday Masses in St. Peter’s. Then we visit Manoppello to see the Holy Veil which many believe contains a miraculous image of Christ’s face. If you have time and would like to make this pilgrimage, go to InsideTheVaticanPilgrimages.com to sign up.
All best wishes.—RM
Here is an article published yesterday in the National Catholic Register about the private meeting yesterday morning between Pope Francis and Archbishop Georg Gänswein..”
Note that, because the article was written and published yesterday, January 9, it refers to the meeting as occurring “this morning.”
The meeting occurred yesterday morning, January 9, in Rome.
Pope Francis meets with Benedict XVI’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Gänswein (link)
By Jonathan Liedl, National Catholic Register
January 9, 2023
Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the longtime personal secretary of the late Pope Benedict XVI, met with Pope Francis this morning, according to the Vatican’s daily press briefing.
The German prelate’s meeting with the Holy Father comes only four days after Benedict XVI was laid to rest in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday, Jan. 5.
It also took place shortly before the public release of Gänswein’s forthcoming book detailing his nearly 20 years of service to Benedict XVI.
According to a preview of the text published by Reuters, the book includes details about the German pope’s alleged disagreements with his Argentinian successor over matters such as Pope Francis’ restriction of the traditional Latin Mass and his statements regarding moral matters such as abortion and homosexuality.
Titled “Nothing But The Truth — My Life Beside Benedict XVI,” Gänswein’s 330-page book will be released in Italian on Jan. 12. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni has provided no comment on the book, which was written with Italian journalist Saverio Gaeta.
Another episode reportedly discussed in the book is Gänswein’s effective dismissal from the role of prefect of the Papal Household, which occurred in 2020. Originally appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, Gänswein continued to serve as prefect during Pope Francis’ pontificate, a role that includes organizing official audiences with the Holy Father.
However, Gänswein ceased performing the duties associated with the position following a controversy in January 2020 surrounding a book on priestly celibacy originally published as co-authored by Pope Benedict XVI and Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah. The book, “From the Depths of Our Heart,” was published amid the controversial pan-Amazonian synod and was seen by many as a critique from the former pontiff of Pope Francis’ allowance for questions of married clergy to be discussed during the proceedings.
Gänswein asked Sarah to remove Pope Benedict’s name as co-author of the text and said that a “misunderstanding” had led to the retired pope’s inclusion as an author.
Gänswein’s role did not change following the incident, but his cessation of papal household prefect duties was explained by the Holy See Office as a reflection of the “redistribution of the various commitments and duties” of papal household staff.
In his forthcoming book, Gänswein reportedly writes that, following the authorship incident, Pope Francis told him “not to come back to work tomorrow.”
“Nothing But the Truth” reportedly claims that Pope Benedict wrote two letters to Pope Francis asking him to restore Gänswein to his duties because the German archbishop was “under attack from all sides,” but his reinstatement never took place.
With Pope Benedict no longer living, it is unclear what role Gänswein will have going forward in the Vatican, if any.
As is standard practice for private audiences, the details of the meeting were not shared by the Vatican press office. A request for comment from Gänswein was not immediately returned.
[End CNA Report]