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Gerard O’ConnellJune 02, 2023
Pope Francis meets Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican May 19, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the private secretary of the late Pope Benedict XVI, has to leave his Vatican apartment by July 1 and return to his home diocese of Freiburg in Germany, according to a June 2 report in Die Welt, a German daily newspaper.

It said Archbishop Gänswein, 66, would live as a private citizen, though still a priest, and would not be given a new assignment or formal role in the Archdiocese of Freiburg. According to the report, Pope Francis gave the archbishop the July 1 deadline during a private audience in the Vatican on May 19.

It was the archbishop’s third private audience with Pope Francis since Benedict XVI died on Dec. 31, 2022. In the five months since Benedict’s death, there has been considerable speculation in Rome and Germany about what, if any, assignment Francis might give to the archbishop, who served as the private secretary of Benedict XVI from 2005 until his death and as prefect of the papal household for Pope Francis from 2013 to 2020.

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the private secretary of the late Pope Benedict XVI, has to leave his Vatican apartment by July 1 and return to his home diocese of Freiburg in Germany.

Earlier this year, media outlets reported on the unconfirmed rumors that Pope Francis might send Archbishop Gänswein to Costa Rica or some other country to serve as the papal nuncio, or ambassador. But America learned from informed Vatican sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record, that this proposal had been dismissed by the pope early on.

Suggestions that Francis might assign him to another position in the Roman Curia were also ruled out informed sources who did not wish to be named told America because, among other reasons, the archbishop had published private correspondence between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in his tell-all book, Nothing But the Truth: My Life Beside Benedict XVI, soon after Benedict’s death.

In that book, Archbishop Gänswein claimed that Francis never really trusted him and suggested that Benedict had disagreed with some of Francis’ decisions. According to many in the Vatican, his book revealed a lack of trustworthiness, loyalty and reserve on the part of a man who was meant to be serving two popes. In that book, he also lamented the fact that Francis suspended him from his role as prefect of the papal household in 2020 and instructed him to give his full attention to caring for the ailing Benedict XVI, a move he saw as a demotion.

According to many in the Vatican, Archbishop Gänswein’s book revealed a lack of trustworthiness, loyalty and reserve on the part of a man who was meant to be serving two popes.

On May 17, two days before he met Francis for the third time since Benedict’s death, Archbishop Gänswein “spoke openly about his future at an event of the Wiesbaden Press Club,” according to KNA, the German Catholic news agency, which also reported the story from Die Welt. It quoted him as saying that he was then in “a phase of reflection” in which both he and the pope were making suggestions. But, he added: “I am not the one who decides. I am the one who is decided upon.” According to Die Welt, the pope had thought the archbishop might take a job as a theology professor.

After asking the archbishop about Die Welt’s report, KNA reported, “Gänswein did not want to comment.” A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Freiburg told KNA that they had no information so far and that the personnel decision could neither be confirmed nor denied at the moment.

KNA said the decision, if confirmed, “would also end speculation about Gänswein’s possible return to Germany as a diocesan bishop,” even though three German dioceses are currently without a bishop: Paderborn, Bamberg and Osnabrück.

Today’s news appears to confirm what Pope Francis told Joaquín Morales Solá, an Argentine journalist whom he has known for many years, in a private audience in the latter half of April at Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house where he lives. In a story published in La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper, on April 23, the journalist reported that Francis said he “still misses” Benedict XVI. Francis recalled that the German pope always gave him “good counsels and was a permanent help.”

In this context, Francis revealed that he had told Archbishop Gänswein that he has to decide whether he wishes to remain in Italy or to return to Germany but said that, in any case, he would have to leave his Vatican apartment in a couple of months. Mr. Morales Solá reported that “Francis reminded [Archbishop] Gänswein that all the private secretaries of the popes had returned to their [home] dioceses when the pope died.” He cited the case of St. John Paul II’s private secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, then an archbishop, who returned to Krakow after the death of the Polish pope.

The Vatican has not commented on today’s breaking news from Die Welt, nor has Archbishop Gänswein. America, however, has confirmed from other sources that the archbishop must leave the Vatican by July 1 and is unlikely to be given another assignment.

Archbishop Gänswein could break his silence over the weekend. He will be presiding at a Mass at a pilgrimage to a Cistercian monastery in western Germany on Sunday and is likely to be under the spotlight of the media.

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