Here's what you need to know about Archbishop Gänswein, Benedict XVI's personal secretary
Archbishop Georg Gänswein in Rome in February 2022. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Denver Newsroom, Feb 14, 2022 / 05:45 am (CNA).
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein has become an increasingly well-known presence in the Catholic world in recent years, especially since Benedict’s resignation in 2013.
The 65-year-old German not only speaks on Benedict’s behalf frequently, but has also staunchly defended the pope emeritus from criticism on numerous occasions, as he did most recently in an exclusive interview with EWTN detailing Benedict's response to a German law firm's report on the Church's handling of sexual abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Munich and Friesing.
Gänswein once described his role as Benedict’s personal secretary as analogous to a “pane of glass:” “I need to let the sunlight in, and the less the glass is visible the better. If it cannot be seen at all, it means it is fulfilling its task. … The less I am deliberately on show, the better.”
A native of the Black Forest region of Germany, Gänswein was born in 1956 and ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau in 1984. He is a Doctor of Canon Law, having earned his degree in 1993.
Gänswein told Vatican-magazin in Dec. 2021 that he decided to become a priest as a result of his own curiosity about the meaning of life, and his efforts to find answers to life’s biggest questions through study.
“It became more and more clear to me that it's not just about finding answers, but that it must also become my life's work. Little by little I recognized God's plan and discovered my vocation. After completing my studies at the university, it was clear to me: The priesthood is your way and with God's help you will get through it,” he said in 2021.
In 1995, after serving as a judge of the Diocesan Tribunal and as a personal collaborator of the Archbishop, he left Germany for Rome, serving first at the Congregation for Divine Worship and later at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 2003, he became personal secretary to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later be elected pope in 2005.
Pope Benedict appointed Gänswein as Prefect of the Papal Household in 2012. In that role, Gänswein was responsible for, among other things, supervising the clerics and laypeople who assist the pope in his various duties, as well as arranging all public and private audiences with the pope.
At the same time, Gänswein was ordained as the titular archbishop of Urbs Salvia, an ancient Roman city in the Marche region of Italy, and consecrated in Jan. 2013.
When the now-nonagenarian Benedict XVI made the decision to resign the papacy in February 2013, "I actually had to let my tears run free," Gänswein told EWTN three years later.
“It really wasn't easy for him. But he knew that the universal world church can no longer be guided from the seclusion of the papal chambers,” Gänswein wrote in a 2017 book foreword.
“The church needs not only the prophetic word, but also open dialogue like the air to breathe. Popes therefore also have to travel like the apostles Peter and Paul. And the flock of Christians needs a chief shepherd who tirelessly sees that they do not scatter…. [T]he supreme pastoral ministry was not only a heavy burden for him, but also fulfillment and joy of soul, to respond to all challenges in a timely manner and boldly in the light of God's incarnation.”
Benedict’s mission now, Gänswein said in 2014, “is to help the Church and his successor, Pope Francis, through prayer.” He expanded on this in 2016, saying that there are not “two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry — with an active member and a contemplative member.”
Gänswein served in his role as prefect until 2020, when Pope Francis placed him on leave of those duties to be able to dedicate his time exclusively to the former pope.
In September 2020, Gänswein was hospitalized for “severe” kidney problems. Days later, Gänswein thanked those who had prayed for his recovery, saying: "May God reward you for your prayerful support." Gänswein had, three years earlier, suffered a sudden loss of hearing, but he recovered.
Gänswein has spoken out on Benedict’s behalf many times over the years, especially as the pope emeritus ages. Most recently, earlier this month in the wake of accusations that Benedict mishandled abuse cases while a bishop, Gänswein said he believes a movement exists “that really wants to destroy the person and the work” of the former pope.
Gänswein himself has often decried abuse in the Church, in 2018 describing the sexual abuse crisis as the Church’s “9/11” moment.
Gänswein has also defended Benedict’s decision to receive the coronavirus vaccine, which has proven controversial among some Catholics.