Gänswein: After the Resignation “There was Always Only One Pope and His Name was Francis”

2 Gennaio 2023 Pubblicato da 2 Commenti

Marco Tosatti

Dear friends and foes of Stilum Curiae, it seems interesting to me to offer to your attention this anticipation of an interview that will be broadcast on [Italian station] RAI 3 on Thursday evening, with Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal secretary of Benedict XVI. It is interesting from a human point of view, but it does not give much clarity about the reasons that led Benedict XVI to resign. Gänswein however maintains that after the resignation there was one pope and it was Francis. Enjoy your reading.


Archbishop Georg Gänswein, you are 66 years old, since the age of 38 you have been at the service of the Church, today you are the Prefect of the Papal Household, but above all you were the private secretary of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, you were next to him up until the moment he died, and before this on the day of his election and on the day of his resignation which amazed the whole world. There is a image of his abdication that is almost symbolic, namely, the helicopter which took the Pope from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo in order to re-enter into his former life [nel secolo]. You were there, on that helicopter. What do you recall about this final act?

The first thing that I recall is leaving the Apostolic Palace. I was the last person to leave the apartment. I turned out the lights, and this was for me a very touching and sad moment. I closed the door. And then we left.

Some people have told me that you wept: is this true?

This is true, I was very emotional, and when I saw… excuse me… when I saw Cardinal Comastri weeping, something broke inside me, and I wept. I tried to hold it back, but the pressure inside me was too great, it was like a tsunami above, below, and beside me. I no longer knew where I was.

And did the Pope become emotional?

Pope Benedict was in a state of incredible tranquility, just as he had been in the preceding days.

When did you know about the Pope’s decision?

The Pope told me at Castel Gandolfo at the end of September 2012.

How did you react?

My immediate reaction was, “Holy Father, this is impossible, this truly is not possible.”

You said to him that he could not do it?

Yes, yes. I said it directly, just as I am saying it to you right now. Holy Father, no. We ought to and we certainly can think about reducing our commitments, yes. But leaving, resigning, is impossible. Pope Benedict allowed me to speak. And then he said: As you can imagine, I have thought through this decision; I have reflected; I have prayed; I have struggled with it. And I am now communicating to you a decision that has been made, not a theory to be discussed. This is not a quaestio disputanda; it has been decided. I am telling you, and now you must not tell it to anyone.

Thus, there had already been all of this anguish inside him prior to his decision: did you notice it?

I had noticed at the beginning of July that the Pope was very closed in on himself, very thoughtful. And I thought that he was just concentrating on the third volume of his book on Jesus that he was finishing. Then, at the end of September, when he revealed his decision to me, I understood that I had been mistaken: it was not the book that he was worried about, but it was the internal struggle and challenge over this decision.

You kept this secret for months, until the night before the announcement of the resignation. That evening, as you said good night to each other, what did you say to each other?

Before he went to bed, he went into the chapel to pray, as all priests do when they say Compline. He said his prayers, but I did not ask what he prayed for that night.

And did you sleep that night?

I did not sleep because I knew that the next day would be the day of the resignation. I did not succeed in falling asleep.

You knew the Pope from his writings ever since you were in school, in seminary. When did you first meet him personally.

I first spoke to him on January 10, 1995, 27 years ago, here in the Vatican at the Teutonic College. I explained to him where I came from, what I had done, and when he heard that I had spent seven years at the University of Munich, the ice was broken. My first impression was unforgettable: he had a personality that was strong but very natural. Meek but very, very decisive.

All of this changed on April 19, 2005, at 5:56 P.M., when the white smoke transformed Joseph Ratzinger into Benedict XVI, the 265th Successor of Saint Peter. Where were you that day?

I was in the hall that connects the Sistine Chapel to the Pauline Chapel, the Sala Regia. After an hour, you could hear a loud applause break out. You could hear it outside [the chapel] where I was standing. But the cardinals do not applaud; the conclave is not a concert. And so the only explanation was that they had chosen someone and that the one chosen had accepted. Shortly afterwards, I recall that “Boom, Boom, Boom” the big door suddenly opened and the youngest cardinal came out in a hurry saying, “We have decided, there is a new pope.” Nothing else.

And you didn’t know who it was?

No, I didn’t know. Until I leaned forward in order to look and understand. And then I saw him, already, down at the front of the chapel.

Was he already dressed in white?

He was completely white, including his face. His hair was already white. Then there was the white zucchetto and the white outfit. But he was pale, very pale. And there, in that moment, he looked at me. “Holy Father,” I murmured, “I don’t know what to say; congratulations, prayers.” Then I said something important for me: “I promise you my service, if you wish, both in life and in death. For my entire life, until death or even in death.”

But immediately before the Conclave there was that statement by Ratzinger about pedophilia among priests, when he said, “how much filth there is in the Church.” Was this denunciation a sort of program of governance in the mind of the cardinals [who elected him]?

We must not forget that as Prefect he was the first, or one of the first, to come into contact with this ugly scourge of abuse. It is obvious that such an experience could not have failed to be present in the 2005 Way of the Cross [written by Ratzinger].

Then there was the first homily at the beginning of the pontificate, when the new Pope said, “Pray for me that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” What wolves was he speaking of?

Someone once asked me if I could name a few of the wolves. I replied, “Ask the Pope himself; I don’t know if he was thinking of anyone in particular, but I don’t believe so.” Certainly that image also means that it’s not easy to be at the same time coherent, to go against the tide, and to maintain this direction if many are of another opinion.

However, one perceives from these words that he had the perception that it would not be a papacy of tranquility, but one of struggle: is this what he anticipated?

If there is anyone who believes that there could be a papacy of tranquility, I think he has the wrong profession.

However perhaps you did not imagine that this battle would originate right inside the Vatican, with sexual, moral, and financial scandals. Was it a crisis that was bigger that what had been foreseen?

The word “scandal” is definitely a bit strong, but it is true that during his pontificate there were many problems. Vatileaks, and then the Vatican Bank [IOR]. But it is obvious that, as Pope Francis would say, evil, the Evil One, the devil, never sleeps. It is clear that he always seeks to touch and hit the place where the nerves are exposed, and do more evil.

Are you saying that you have sensed the presence of the devil in these years?

I have actually felt him to be very strongly opposed against Pope Benedict.

Vatileaks was an enormous scandal; it went all over the world. On the other hand, we think of the secret documents that were stolen directly from the Pope’s writing desk, by his butler. How was this possible?

Here I must make a small correction. The documents were not stolen from Pope Benedict’s writing desk, but from mywriting desk. Unfortunately I only realized it later, much later – too late in fact. I spoke to Benedict clearly. I said, “Holy Father, the responsibility for this is mine, I take full responsibility. I ask you to assign me to another job, I resign.” No, no, he said to me: look, there was one even among the Twelve who betrayed, his name is Judas. We are a small group here, and we will stay together.

You know that there are those who think that the Pope abdicated under a sort of blackmail after the theft of those documents. On the other hand, we know about the papers that have been made public, but we do not know about potentially other papers that were read and stolen, which perhaps were held over Benedict as a threat. How do you respond to a hypothesis of this nature?

I totally rule it out. There was nothing else of substance.

Pope Benedict recently was called into question about a case of sexual abuse in 1980 when he was Archbishop of Munich. A year ago, he wrote a letter to apologize for his behavior, saying that perhaps he should have investigated more, asked more questions, however at the same time he categorically rejected the accusation that he had told lies. Did he have a feeling of guilt?

There was an error on the part of one of our collaborators, because we had to read 8000 pages of documentation, and the person who read the papers said that Cardinal Ratzinger was not present at the famous meeting on January 15, 1980.

Why this lie?

Our collaborator got the dates wrong, this was a bad thing. When I said, “Holy Father, we made a mistake here,” he decided to write a personal letter, so that no one could say that he had not replied personally.

Naturally, the question is whether the scandals influenced Ratzinger’s resignation. You say no, I will quote your exact words: “He did not flee from the wolves, he simply and humbly admitted that he no longer had the strength to govern the Church of Christ. Once again the wolves. I ask you, did the Pope meet those wolves?

I spoke about this once with Pope Benedict: “Weren’t all these scandals, as they are called, also a reason to leave? No, he replied, this question did not influence my resignation. On February 11, 2013, I said what my reasons were: I lacked the strength needed to govern. In order to lead the Church today, one needs strength [le forze], otherwise it does not work.

But Pope Benedict came after a pope like John Paul II, who endured his illness in public and almost offered the suffering of his body as testimony of his faith, also in coherence with his papal motto: Totus Tuus. How did Benedict deal with his predecessor’s choice?

He said to me one time: I cannot and I will not copy the model of John Paul II in his illness, because I have to deal with my life, my choices, my strength. Which in my opinion requires not only much courage, but also great humility.

This choice also posed a question to Ratzinger the theologian, and that is the human temptation to deviate from the divine plan that brought him to the Chair of Peter: is man able to do this?

Man ought to take the decision that seems right to him at that moment.

You were next to the Pope in 2009 at Aquila, in front of the reliquary containing the body of Celestine V, the only pope who, like Ratzinger, freely chose to resign, in 1294. You helped Benedict to take off his pallium and place it on Celestine’s reliquary. Why did this gesture occur, which seemed like a self-prophecy?

Placing the papal pallium on the tomb of the destroyed church of Collemaggio was an act of great honor to Celestine. But this had nothing to do with the act of resignation that would become a reality several years later. There was no connection. [Escludo un collegamento.]

Can you tell me about the morning of February 11, 2013, the day of the choice?

It was February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We celebrated Holy Mass, said the breviary, and had breakfast. The Pope got ready for the Consistory. I helped him to put on the mozzetta with the stole, and then I accompanied him in a small elevator from the apartment to the seconda loggia. We didn’t speak a word, nothing. That is, the silence was absolute, because it was not the time for words. At the end of the Consistory the Pope said, “Lord Cardinals, stay here, because I still have to tell you something that is important for the life of the Church.”

He had a piece of paper in his hand; did he write it himself?

Yes, directly in Latin. I asked him why, and he answered me that such an announcement must be made in the language of the Church, the mother tongue. And so he read those words that became the declaration of resignation.

It was 11:30 A.M., the hour of the choice.

You could hear from his voice that the Pope was both emotional and tired.

At 11:46 A.M. the news went around the world. And in some way, it was the absolute having to deal with the relative, the universal colliding with human weakness denounced in public. In this sense it was also the bursting of modernity into an institution that had lived for 2000 years with the Pope, Christ’s representative on earth, who revealed his own fragility before the weight of governing the universal Church and also the responsibility that follows from it. Are you in agreement with this reading [of the resignation]?

It is not a complete explanation, but I am totally in agreement.

Cardinal Ruini told me that he was astonished, stupefied, because he had not expected it even slightly. What do you recall about the reactions at that moment?

When Pope Benedict began to read in Latin, I saw a bit of…how to say it… a bit of movement, efforts to listen in order to understand better, then little by little I realized that the cardinals were perceiving that this was something strange. I believe that some of them understood right away, while others asked the person next to them what was going on. Then when Cardinal Sodano made a brief statement to the Pope in Italian, speaking of a lightning bolt out of the blue, everyone realized what was happening.

Why did Benedict choose for himself the formula of “Pope Emeritus,” causing discussions.

He decided this himself, personally. I think that in the face of such an exceptional decision returning to be a cardinal would have been less natural. But there is no doubt that there was always only one Pope, and his name is Francis. [Ma non c’è Nessun dubbio che c’è stato sempre un solo Papa, e si chiama Francesco.]

You have personally known three popes: John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. If I say to you that Wojtyla represents the soul, Ratzinger represents reason, and Francis represents the heart, how would you respond?

That all three words are correct, but they are also too simple.

How did your life change after Benedict’s resignation from the papal throne?

It changed radically from being like this to being like this [da così a così], from one day to the next.

Don’t you believe that after Ratzinger’s resignation the sacred became more human?

The sacred is sacred, and it also has human aspects. I believe that by his resignation Pope Benedict also demonstrated that the Pope, although always remaining the Successor of Saint Peter, is still a human person with all of his strengths, but also with his own weaknesses.

There is a saying that can summarize everything we have said: It is not strength that changes the divine design, but the fragility of man. Do you agree?

It is both. That is, the one is needed, but one must also live the other. Because it takes strength to accept one’s own weakness.



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