ROME – German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former private secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, has made his first public appearances after being sent back to his native Freiburg with no formal job, jesting about his unemployment, promoting his controversial memoirs from the Benedict years, and celebrating a large public Mass.
Last Thursday Gänswein attended the presentation of the German edition of his book Nothing but the Truth, published earlier this year in Italy shortly after the passing of Pope Benedict XVI, for whom he served as private secretary for decades, as cardinal and later as pope and pope emeritus.
At the presentation, held in the town of Kirchzarten, Gänswein said, “I’m here now, I’m looking for a job, so to speak,” and jested about contacting an employment agency.
In July the Archdiocese of Freiburg, led by Archbishop Stephan Burger, announced after a meeting between Burger and Gänswein that Gänswein would celebrate Masses in Freiburg’s cathedral beginning in the fall, but he was not given a permanent job.
Gänswein, 67, has been unemployed since returning to Freiburg in June, when Pope Francis sent him packing from Rome with no new assignment.
The move was widely seen as a rebuff of Gänswein, who had been de facto removed from his post as Prefect of the Papal Household by Francis in 2020, and who made waves following the death of Benedict XVI Dec. 31, 2022, with remarks made in various interviews, as well as in his new book, which was published shortly after Benedict’s passing.
Gänswein in both his book and his media remarks indicated that Benedict and Francis were at odds on several big decisions Francis had made, including the pontiff’s reversal of Benedict’s decision to liberalize use of the Traditional Latin Mass.
In an interview with the German newspaper Die Tagespost in January, Gänswein said a 2021 decree by Pope Francis reversing Benedict’s decision to liberalize permission for celebration of the old Latin Mass “hit him pretty hard.”
“I believe it broke Pope Benedict’s heart” to read the decree, Gänswein said, saying, “At a personal level, he encountered a decisive change of course and considered it a mistake, since it jeopardized the attempt at peace that had been made 14 years earlier.”
“Benedict especially thought it was wrong to prohibit the celebration of Mass in the old rite in parish churches, since it’s always dangerous to paint a group of the faithful into a corner, making them feel persecuted and inspiring a feeling that they have to defend their identity against an enemy,” he said.
Excerpts from Gänswein’s new book also included lines in which he said that he had been “shocked and speechless” when Pope Francis told him in 2020 that while he would technically remain Prefect of the Papal Household, he would not come to work anymore starting the next day, and would no longer appear beside Francis in public, with his only job being to serve as caretaker to Benedict XVI.
Gänswein said he became “a prefect cut in half,” and that when he told Benedict the news, Benedict jested that, “I think Pope Francis doesn’t trust me anymore and wants you to keep an eye on me.”
However, Pope Francis on his return flight from Africa in early February indicated that there were no problems between he and Benedict, accusing in comments to reporters unnamed people of “instrumentalizing” Benedict’s death to score political points, and insisting that Benedict was not “embittered” by the new directions he had set.
“He was always at my side, supporting, and if he had a problem, he told me, and we talked. There weren’t problems,” Francis said, saying, “Some stories that say Benedict was embittered for what the new pope did, are stories from a ‘wireless phone’ [an expression meaning ‘gossip’].”
“On the contrary, I consulted Benedict for some decisions to be made, and he agreed. He agreed,” Francis said, saying, “I wanted to say clearly who Pope Benedict was, and that he wasn’t embittered.”
After Thursday’s book presentation in Kirchzarten, Gänswein made his second public appearance Tuesday, celebrating Mass and presiding over a candlelight procession at the shrine of Maria Vesperbild in Bavaria-Swabia, called the “Swabian capital of Mary,” for the Aug. 15 feast of the Assumption of Mary.
The shrine annually draws some 4-500,000 pilgrims, making it one of the largest pilgrim destinations in the area. It contains a statue of the Sorrowful Mother of God believed to have miraculous properties.
A Via Crucis leads from the shrine to a nearby grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, built in 1957 in the surrounding forest. Some 1,000 votive candles and tablets are also present at the shrine bearing the testimonies of pilgrims thanking Mary for her assistance with various petitions and prayers.
Gänswein, described as a “celebrity” in the announcement for the event on the shrine’s website, led an evening Mass and subsequent candlelight procession through the grotto, passing over ornate flower carpets that had been prepared ahead of the liturgical celebration.
Speaking to the German newspaper Die Tagespost prior to the Mass, Gänswein, who has visited the Maria Vesperbild shrine on several previous occasions prior for vacation, said that at a time when throngs of Catholics are leaving the Church in Germany, the shrine is “an antidote to the poison of the zeitgeist.”
Gänswein said the departure of faithful is a sign of rottenness inside the Church and a resulting weakening of faith, saying that if faith is no longer proclaimed joyfully and does not transform lives, it is only a question of time “until a branch that is no longer nourished dries up and dies.”
He was also asked about the altar at the Fatima grotto of the shrine where Mass was celebrated, which faces east, meaning Mass is celebrated ad orientum, as it is in the Old Latin Rite of the Mass.
In his response Gänswein said celebrating this way gives him an inner concentration “which in my opinion takes nothing at all from the prayer of those who celebrate Holy Mass.”
“The common look at the Lord does not disturb, but contributes to the gathering,” he said, noting that Mass is about orienting oneself to God.
Asked about Our Lady of Fatima’s instruction to pray for the conversion of Russia, Gänswein said that request is still relevant, but is not only aimed at Russia. The message, he said, is for “the conversion of every heart.”
In his homily, Gänswein spoke of the idea of heaven and bodily resurrection, and therefore, the concept of hope and the desire of the human person to be fully accepted by God.
“Everyone longs to be accepted,” especially in difficult life situations, he said, saying, “any doors that have been slammed in our faces,” including those of “slander from ambush,” as well as a growing experience of loneliness.
During the visit Gänswein also signed and personally dedicated a copy of his new book.
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