Archbishop Georg Gaenswein has given an extensive interview to the Italian publication Oggi.
In the interview which the prefect of the Papal Household and private secretary to Pope Benedict XVI granted yesterday, he discusses his experiences under both pontificates, and speaks specifically on Pope Francis’ pontificate, the Pope Emeritus’ health and the Vatileaks scandal.
Archbishop Gaenswein reflected on Pope Francis’ ability to always ‘surprise.’ “With the announcement of the extraordinary Holy Year, Pope Francis gave another proof of his ability to surprise.”
Asked how the Pope is up close, he replied: “The personal perception and the perception of the media coincide. Pope Francis is an authentic person. He is how he looks to the viewer from a distance or on TV … I’m surprised by his ability to manage having always so many events, general and private audiences, personal meetings, etc.”
“At age 78, Pope Francis tackles everything with extraordinary strength.”
He also reflected on the obstacles in the path of Church reform. “Of course, there are those who may not have his vision,” he said, “but it cannot be said that Pope Francis is hampered or thwarted. The challenge of the missionary Church is the main theme of his pontificate,” he said.
The Vatican official noted the Curia is working on economic and financial issues, but it takes patience and time. “A large ship cannot change course in a short time, it is not a small boat.”
The archbishop also responded to Pope Francis’ statements which have caused media waves, such as giving a “punch” to those who offend or parents giving a child “a spanking.” He admitted that, “In the Anglo-Saxon and German world, he has created a heated discussion, even one which is a little ‘exaggerated.’”
“You have to contextualize his words and steer them in his direct communication style,” he said, “especially when he speaks off the cuff. He likes to speak in a clear and open way.”
“Maybe, after certain reactions, which may also depend on the sensitivity of different peoples and countries, he could change gears.”
Archbishop Gaenswein also reflected on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, for whom he has been secretary since 2003. He remembered crying when Pope Emeritus left the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo, after resigning.
“I was moved,” he said. “After eight years there as a secretary, I was living a historic moment. Instead, Pope Benedict was serene.” That evening of February 28, he reflected, he had withheld his emotions, until they became tears.
The German archbishop also spoke of how the Pope Emeritus passes his days.
“He’s fine, for his age,” he reflected, noting he makes afternoon stroll daily in the Vatican Gardens.
“I usually go with him. We recite the Rosary together. We walk [30 minutes]. Pope Benedict, who has always had a brisk pace, now, on the advice of the doctor, uses a walker, and a cane in the house. The days always start with Mass, and I concelebrate with him every morning. During the day, he reads, studies, answers many letters and, not infrequently, in the evening, he plays the piano.”
“With the three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth, he ended his theological work,” he noted.
“He [Pope Benedict] says he has no more strength to write.” he noted. Yet, he said during Sunday Mass, the Pope Emeritus always gives the homily, without written notes. “He has a good memory.”
Gaenswein on His Role
The prefect also reflected on his unprecedented role, the first prelate to be a collaborator to two Popes.
“I started this journey with great faith, energy, but also a bit of fear. Now, after two years, it is easier. At first, I was more insecure,” he said, noting this was partially due to some having greater expectations from the retired Pope to stay more involved.
“The attitude of welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to Francis was, and is, exemplary. Between the two, there really is a very friendly and respectful relationship,” he said.
Remembering the Vatileaks scandal, the archbishop called it a difficult period in which he experienced disappointment and felt betrayed. Yet, he noted, how Pope Benedict has always had confidence in him.
“I felt, in a sense, responsible for not having adequately supervised, for giving confidence to those who did not deserve it.” He said. “Of course, even among the Apostles, there were those who betrayed him [Jesus]. But when I realized that the person doing so was a person so close to the Pope, I was very shocked … When I look back, I feel sorry in my heart.”