In an interview published last week in an Italian newspaper, Archbishop Georg Gänswein reveals what it is like to work as prefect of the pontifical household, while he serves both a reigning pope and an emeritus pope contemporaneously.
“It’s quite a challenge,” he told Il Messaggero on Oct. 22. “Every now and then I would like to ask advice of my predecessor but there isn’t one, because no one before me has ever had this double task.”
“I put into practice Pope Francis’ words: never be shut-in on yourself or be afraid,” and in this way, he said he is able to take each day as it comes with serenity.
In 2003, Archbishop Gänswein was appointed as Cardinal Joseph Razinger’s secretary, before being elevated last year to his current position as prefect of the pontifical household. Having served under Benedict XVI, and now serving under Francis, he acknowledged that, “in the end the service is done for the Lord and for the Church.”
Responding to a question about the possibility of there being an anti-Pope and a reigning Pope, Archbishop Gänswein was adamant that there is no chance of this happening. “Whoever knows Benedict XVI knows that this danger doesn’t exist. He has never meddled and does not meddle in the government of the Church; it’s not part of his style. Moreover, theologian Ratzinger knows that every published word of his could attract attention, and whatever he says would be read as pro or against his Successor. So he will never intervene publicly.”
“Between him and Francis there is a relationship of sincere esteem and fraternal affection,” he added.
Life in retirement
Also in the interview, Archbishop Gänswein, who continues to work closely with the Emeritus Pope, shed some light on what life is like for the retired pontiff. “He is well; he prays, reads, listens to music, dedicates himself to his correspondence, of which there is much, and there are also visits; every day we take a walk together in the gardens behind the convent reciting the Rosary. The day is well planned.”
Although Feb. 11, 2013, “remains indelible” for him as the day in which Benedict XVI announced that he would be resigning, the archbishop admitted that the period after the resignation took effect was difficult. “I will never forget when I turned off the lights of the papal apartment with tears in my eyes,” he said. “Then the trip by car to the heliport, the flight to Castel Gandolfo, the arrival, Benedict XVI’s last greeting from the balcony. Finally the closing of the gate of the Palace.”
The archbishop said it is fortunate that, with the election of the new Pope, “a relationship of human affection and esteem was created immediately, even though Benedict and Francis are persons with different styles and personalities.”
“There are those who have interpreted these differences in an antithetical way, but it isn’t like this.”
Archbishop Gänswein also touched upon the decision to establish a commission of eight Cardinals dedicated to the reform of the Curia. Although a surprise, he said “it enters into the tasks proper of Cardinals, who are the first counselors of the Pontiff.” He admitted that he is “curious to see what will emerge” from this initiative.
Turning back to some of the key events toward the end of Benedict’s pontificate, the prelate recalled the Vatilieaks scandal, and the resignation of Vatican Bank president Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. He asserted that, “contrary to what is thought there is no connection between the two events, but only an unfortunate coincidence.”
Archbishop Gänswein went on to share his thoughts on what Pope Francis means by a “poor” Church. “One thing seems clear to me,” he said: “the expression ‘poor Church’ has become a theme of Pope Bergoglio’s Petrine ministry. However in the first place it isn’t a sociological expression but rather theological; at the center is the poor Christ, and from there everything follows.”
The German prelate also observed that the method of Pope Francis’ pontificate is a continuation of his work as archbishop of Buenos Aires: “With his example he offers everyone a precious witness. Personal example is a pastoral method.”
Although some have found Pope Francis’ actions to be surprising, the archbishop said that, contrary to media interpretations, these are hardly revolutionary. “It’s normal that a change of pontificate brings with it changes on different levels. A new pontiff must necessarily make a team for himself with persons he can trust. This, however, is not a revolution; it is simply an act of government and of responsibility.”