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Simon Kajan — KNAJune 26, 2023
pope francis sits and talks to archbishop georg gaenswein the former secretary to benedict xviPope Francis meets Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican in this May 19, 2023, file photo. Pope Francis has directed Archbishop Gänswein to return to his home diocese of Freiburg in southwest Germany without an assignment by July 1. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City/Freiburg (KNA) — Speculation surrounding the return to Germany of the former secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, Georg Gänswein, is continuing unabated, not least because his status remains unclear now that he has been sent away from the Vatican.

Pope Francis has decided “for the time being” (“per il momento”) that Gänswein must return to his home diocese of Freiburg.

In the meantime, the archdiocese has confirmed to the portal katholisch.de, that he will live in a rented apartment of the seminary, not far from Freiburg’s Archbishop Stephan Burger. Some observers interpret the “for the time being” as a hint that it could only be a stopover. Gänswein, usually keen to talk to the media, is not responding to enquiries at the moment.

Speculation surrounding the return to Germany of Georg Gänswein is continuing unabated, not least because his status remains unclear now that he has been sent away from the Vatican.

It is clear that he will not become a member of the German Bishops’ Conference. Its statutes stipulate that members must be diocesan bishops or auxiliary bishops or bishops who hold a special post conferred by the “Apostolic See or by the German Bishops’ Conference in the area of the Conference.” But no such mandate is mentioned in the sober farewell statement issued by the Vatican on June 15.

Previously, there had been speculation that the pope might offer the long-serving Curia staffer, who had served Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI for over 20 years, a post in the diplomatic corps—for example, as papal ambassador to Costa Rica. There was also talk of an appointment as bishop in Vaduz/Liechtenstein, as the incumbent there will soon have to offer his resignation due to age.

According to sources in Rome, however, the pope envisaged employing Gänswein as a university lecturer in canon law. It is certain that the pope no longer wants his predecessor’s private secretary in the Vatican, although Gänswein is said to have recently renovated an official flat there using considerable funds of his own.

The private secretaries of previous popes were also employed outside the Vatican after their service. However, they were usually given bishop’s seats in the process.

The private secretaries of previous popes were also employed outside the Vatican after their service. However, they were usually given bishop’s seats in the process.

For example, John Paul II’s secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, became the archbishop of Krakow. But Gänswein had recently attracted criticism with book publications and interviews following the death of Benedict XVI.

Observers are outdoing each other with interpretations of the dismissal of the soon-to-be 67-year-old from the Vatican. The US magazine Crux regards the decision as a signal to the Catholic Church in Germany at a time of turmoil by sending it a media-savvy defender of Benedict XVI’s legacy—who also happens to be a vocal critic of the Synodal Path reform project.

By contrast, the Italian journalist Andrea Gagliarducci regards the removal from the Vatican as an additional humiliation and also a signal to others who are at odds with the current pope. Francis even backdated the termination of Gänswein’s position to February 28. This means that the Vatican would technically be entitled to reclaim the salary Gänswein has been paid since that date.

So far, it’s all speculation and rumours, and therefore somehow fitting for “Don Giorgio,” dubbed the “George Clooney of the Vatican.” The sun-tanned tennis player had made headlines as a welcome interview partner for the German celebrity gossip magazine Bunte, as a guest of racing legend Michael Schumacher and not least as an author. His name still attracts media interest and is likely to continue to do so—even without a seat and a vote in the German Bishops’ Conference.

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