19 March 2014, The Tablet

Gänswein: the mask slips

Just a few weeks ago Archbishop George Gänswein was insisting that it is perfectly possible to live with two masters.

But the latest interview given by the Prefect to the Papal Household, who is also private secretary to the Pope Emeritus, suggests otherwise.

Archbishop Gänswein said in a German television documentary that he would have preferred other candidates to succeed Benedict XVI:

“I had favoured other candidates – I was wrong – but then so were other people.”

By stating that he would have preferred that someone other than Pope Francis had been elected to the Chair of Peter he has made his own position untenable.

And with more than a hint of sourness he then said that at the moment the Pope is the darling of the media “but that won’t always be the case”. The Pope is not “everybody’s darling”, he adds, using the English phrase.

Almost as controversially, he uses his position as a conduit between two popes to divulge that Francis sought his predecessor’s views concerning his interview with Antonio Spadaro, the Italian Jesuit and editor of La Civiltà Cattolica.

“I took the text to the Holy Father [sic], explained what the Pope had said and showed him the blank page. Three days later Benedict handed me four pages of reflections, notes and supplements concerning certain questions – things one might go into in more detail elsewhere – most interesting.”

Gänswein revels in the fact that he has had sight of Benedict’s comments and carried them off to Pope Francis, though he says that, of course, he wouldn’t dream of divulging them. Isn’t revealing their existence in itself a breach of confidence to both his masters?

Archbishop Gänswein seems to be emboldened to speak more frankly with each interview. There have been quite a number of these recently to coincide with the anniversary of Pope Benedict’s resignation and the completion of the first year of Francis’ pontificate. In each one he stresses that relations between the two popes are cordial. If they are, this latest interview will do nothing to further this happy state of affairs.

When it was announced that the Pope Emeritus would take up residence in a convent within the Vatican walls, many people expressed concerns that having two popes in close proximity would be problematic. In fact, most Catholics think the arrangement works reasonably well. The findings of The Tablet’s recent online survey confirms this.

What instead rings hollow is Archbishop Gänswein’s claim to be an effective “bridge” between his two masters. The tears he was seen shedding as Benedict left office bear testimony to his closeness to the Pope Emeritus and his recent words show where his loyalties lie.

Pope Francis has kept Gänswein at arm’s length by choosing to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae rather than Apostolic Palace where the Prefect of the Papal Household holds sway. Looked at with hindsight that was a wise decision.

It would be even better if Archbishop Gänswein were now to devote himself exclusively to serving the Pope Emeritus – or leave Rome altogether.

Elena Curti is The Tablet's Deputy Editor

What do you think?


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User comments (23)

Comment by: Paul Heiland
Posted: 08/04/2014 13:33:14

This blog seems to have gone ballistic, so I'll add my twoha'penceworth. Aren't we all assuming that Gänswein does for Francis what he did for Benedict? It could be that Francis' correspondence and diarykeeping are localised at the Domus, so that the Prefect of the Papal Household is "reduced" to running the papal appartments, organising papal business (and coordinating with the Pope Emeritus)? In that case he would not be much of a trust-figure, not any more than many other papal servants. So his (admitted) indelicacies could be relativised.

Comment by: Con Devree
Posted: 06/04/2014 12:07:03

The problem with the article is that Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have gone out of their way to stress the unity and continuity between them, but factionalists won’t settle for that. Instead, thy prefer “I’m Pope Francis Catholic” and “You're a Pope Benedict Catholic.”

Comment by: Pietro
Posted: 31/03/2014 16:20:18

From the time I heard that Abp. Ganswein will be looking after the Pope Emeritus as well as the Papal Household I felt a bit uneasy. After a year since holding these 2 posts, and reading the interview my view uneasiness hasn't changed a bit. True, it's time for him to choose his master. If I were Pope Francis, I'll show him the door.

Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 25/03/2014 21:18:44

Congregentur: luckily for me, what I sound like to you has no bearing on validity of my Catholicity.

Comment by: PDMcLaughlin
Posted: 25/03/2014 19:32:38

It seems to me he should ask the Pope for a new assignment. He is certainly entitled to his opinions, but what he publicly said about his boss is beyond being appropriate.

Posted: 22/03/2014 16:58:55

@Jim McCrea

You sound like a Protestant to me. No offence, Jim.


Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 21/03/2014 20:02:39

CONGREGENTUR. You know little to nothing about me and nothing about my relationship to "Mater Ecclesia."

You specious comment tells me more than a little about you.

Comment by: jatomaria
Posted: 21/03/2014 16:48:29

I do not think that the two phrases "I had favoured" and "he would have preferred" are same from fine logical analytic perspective. One is in double perfect tense while the other in future perfect. The first expresses an action totally completed in the past ante factum while the second is ambiguous and may be interpreted to mean a frame of thinking still taking place. In making this observation, I intend to judge nobody but I feel from my training in logic to point out that to say that the two statements mean the same violates the logical priniciple of identity.

Posted: 21/03/2014 12:11:51

@ Jim McCrea

They all will listen to you, of cause, to evaluate his integrety, coming from someone who even doesn't live close enough to Mater Ecclesiae to have a slightest hint to prove the accusation.

Good-bye. Good luck. And may the Good Lord take a liking to you !


Posted: 21/03/2014 11:31:17

@Comment by: Observer

There was nothing wrong with disclosing the fact that Pope Francis asked Emeritus Benedict to give commentary.

The two have a good relation to each other. it is normal that they converse, and Georg Gänswein was talking about it with an example.

At the same time, Georg complied to the rules, not saying what Benedict wrote. But listening to him in the interview, he gave it with a smile. There surely was nothing in it "to rock the boat", otherwise he would not have mentioned it at all.

Use your common sense (if you have common sense).


Comment by: Francesco
Posted: 21/03/2014 10:35:53

Elena Curtis has unmasked herself - she clearly doesn't "favour" Ganswein!

Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 20/03/2014 21:51:08

If Ganswein had any sense of integrity he would at least offer his resignation to Francis.

My feelings? There was a US TV show years ago with Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans. They always ended it with this: Good-bye. Good luck. And may the Good Lord take a liking to you.

Comment by: Observer
Posted: 20/03/2014 20:33:49

Archbishop George should not be granting interviews about his work for Pope Benedict and Pope Francesco. How can Pope Francis trust that what should remain confidential e.g.his consulting Pope Benecict on any issue remains confidential? It is not the role of the Archbishop George to be revealing these matters. If Pope Francis wishes to publicise his consultations/ his relationship with
Pope Benedict he can personally release that information or authorise his Press Officer, Father Lombardi S.J. to do so.

Comment by: guildfordcatholic
Posted: 20/03/2014 19:26:52


I disagree. I think it's entirely right that Abp Gaenswein made this public. What he has done is demonstrate that there is much more continuity between the pontificates than many in the mainstream media, and perhaps The Tablet, would like.

Perhaps the Abp has seen a pastoral need, and responded to it... has seen that people need to learn not to create unnatural opposition between Francis and Benedict.

The spirit of rupture that the press is so keen on makes no sense within Catholic theology. I find it heartening to know that Francis doesn't see his pontificate as a rupture from the previous one. I'm grateful that the Abp has given us this insight.

As for him 'favouring' other candidates (if that translation is correct). I'm sure many did. I certainly did. But perhaps someone so close to Benedict saying that he was wrong and is on board with Francis, even though he'd expected someone else to be elected, is exactly what those Catholics who find Pope Francis a bit difficult to stomach need to hear.

I rarely read the Tablet so don't know if this piece is representative or not. I was drawn to it because it came up in Luke Coppen's Catholic must reads. I don't really see who this piece is intended to serve. It is destructive rather than constructive. If The Tablet is meant to serve itself then it's no worse than anything else one reads in magazines. But if The Tablet is meant to in any sense serve the community of faith then I find this piece highly irresponsible.

Comment by: sara_tms_again
Posted: 20/03/2014 17:15:42

Pope Francis knows what he is doing by keeping Abp Gänswein in this position, and I believe it's an extremely sensible thing to do.

As for 'favoured', in English as well it can mean 'fancied' in the betting sense. It seems clear from the context this was what Gänswein meant- he thought it would be someone else (Scola or whoever).

He's being a bit of a tease in giving details of Francis' request and Benedict's response, but I would have thought this is information to the credit of both of them, and interesting to know likewise. For all one knows they are happy for it to be known that they consult like this.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 20/03/2014 14:22:02

"The mask slips" is perhaps an unfortunate choice of title, implying as it does a deceitful character exposed.
I think it is a very positive thing that both Pope's are to some extent at least working together. Archbishop Ganswein's role in this is wholly good.

Comment by: RetRorate
Posted: 20/03/2014 12:30:39

Someone needs to tell ++Georg that journalists' questions don't need to be answered in detail, and indeed sometimes not at all. In fact, the interview needn't have been given. Surely discretion is a key requirement in that job?!

Posted: 20/03/2014 12:06:45

Elena Curti,

Your article is conclusive and I will not elaborate further what I have already said here or on my blog. However, it was necessary, for fairness, to make ABP Georg Gänswein aware of your article.


Comment by: sam
Posted: 20/03/2014 11:00:44

You can't serve 2 masters. Pope Francis will be always looking over his shoulder with him around. Should be moved back to Germany in place of the bling bishop.

Comment by: guildfordcatholic
Posted: 20/03/2014 10:53:44

I don't like this piece. Here are my issues with it.

1. Gaenswein says he favoured other candidates... but was wrong. That's hardly a lack of loyalty, but an admission of being wrong, and having had his opinion changed.

2. The Pope is not everyone's darling, and shouldn't be. The Pope himself has said this. And the Pope cannot forever be the 100% permissive figure that the media have made him into. It will change. Gaenswein's comments reflect the Pope's own.

3. Archbishop Gänswein seems to be emboldened to speak more frankly with each interview... so what? Perhaps he's just following the Pope's example?

4. 'he stresses that relations between the two popes are cordial. If they are, this latest interview will do nothing to further this happy state of affairs.' I don't know how you can construe an interview which comments on the continuity between B and F in real ways - showing Francis seeking Benedict's views on the Spadaro interview as negative and a sign of discord. It's dismaying.

5. 'The tears he was seen shedding as Benedict left office bear testimony to his closeness to the Pope Emeritus and his recent words show where his loyalties lie.' --- why make fun of a man's emotions? What nonsense.

I find this an unkind piece designed to sow discord, when it could have emphasized harmony.

Posted: 20/03/2014 10:31:28

Pardon me, Elena Curti, but your article is an insult.
What you did with your "review" was twisting the entire interview to make Georg look bad. You should be ashamed of yourself as Deputy Editor. I am German myself and conclude, what Georg said in the interview, it can get into the wrong ear if translated into another language. The way he spoke in the interview, in German (surprise, surprise), was with a dash of German dry humor added at times. I will dismiss your review this time only, based on the language gap. That is to say, such errors have no excuse - learn and comprehend the language first, before shooting into your leg again.

Comment by: SeanR
Posted: 20/03/2014 07:48:13

This has to be one of the most frothing bits of nonsense I have read in The Tablet for some time, and it's a high bar. Why on earth should saying he had favoured other candidates make the position untenable? Even if he hadn't followed up with the observation he was wrong. Tell me, does the loyalty you expect require that he should really always have been solidly for Bergoglio to win the vote, or merely that he ahould now pretend he was?

"At at the moment the Pope is the darling of the media “but that won’t always be the case”. - That seems to me a simple realistic statement of fact with which most rational commentators across the spectrum would agree.

Finally your nasty little gibe about where his loyalties lie only makes sense if he had to make a choice between loyalties (quite apart from the fact nothing you have asserted really supports the proposition). Even your article appears to concede there is no cause for him to do so.

The Tablet really is becoming an incredibly nasty, sneering place. Increasingly it surpasses the loony trad blogs for its lack of charity, its unpleasant and rather snobbish tone, and its enthusiasm for gossip and conspiracy theories.

Comment by: Gerard Hamill
Posted: 19/03/2014 20:58:59

I couldn't agree more with Elena Curti. I think the Archbishop should either leave Rome altogether or move into the convent where Benedict resides.

It seems obvious to me that our current Pope's deserved popularity is a real irritant to him.

Long may we have Pope Francis leading us.

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