ROME – Unconfirmed rumors in Rome currently suggest that Pope Francis is on the brink of sending Germany Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former priest secretary to Pope Benedict XVI, as his new apostolic nuncio to Costa Rica.
While there’s been no announcement along those lines, the Spanish news site Religión Digital reports that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has requested an agrément, or approval, from the government of Costa Rica for the appointment, in keeping with international diplomatic practice for the naming of a new ambassador.
Should the posting be formalized, it likely will be seen as a sort of exile for the 66-year-old Gänswein, who’s become a hero to Catholic critics of Pope Francis after a book and series of media interviews he gave following Pope Benedict’s death highlighting differences between Benedict and his successor.
Yet it’s worth noting that of the past five priest secretaries to former popes, only Gänswein remained in Rome with a Vatican position after the pope he served was no longer in power – and that, of course, was primarily to continue to be at Benedict XVI’s side while he remained alive.
Past practice therefore suggests that once a pope is dead, his priest secretary, who inevitably will be seen as a symbol of the previous administration, is sent someplace other than Rome.
Loris Capovilla, the priest secretary to Pope John XXIII, was not immediately made a bishop after “Good Pope John” died in 1963. Instead, the new pope, Paul VI, named Capovilla a prelate of the papal anti-camera and an expert for the Second Vatican Council.
It was in 1967, after the council was concluded, that Paul VI named Capovilla the new Archbishop of Chieti in Italy. Four years later, Capovilla became the Prelate of Loreto and Pontifical Delegate for the Sanctuary of the Holy House in Loreto.
Capovilla retired in 1988 and relocated to Sotto il Monte, a community in the northern Italian region of Bergamo where Pope John XXIII was born in 1881. In 2104, Pope Francis nominated Capovilla as a cardinal in recognition of his lifetime of service to the church. Because his health didn’t allow him to travel to Rome, the then-Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, went to Sotto il Monte to present the red hat.
When Capovilla died in 2016 at the age of 100, he was the oldest Catholic bishop in Italy and the fourth oldest in the world.
Pasquale Macchi, who served as priest secretary to Pope Paul VI both prior to his election in Milan and then for all 15 years of his papacy, left Rome to become the archpriest of the Holy Mountain of Varese after Paul VI’s death in 1978.
When Capovilla retired in 1988, Pope John Paul II named Macchi an archbishop and the new prelate of the sanctuary in Loreto, a position he held until his retirement in 1996. He spent his later years in a monastery near the northern Italian city of Brescia, near where Paul VI was born, and devoted his time to preserving the late pope’s memory.
Macchi died in 2006 at the age of 82, and is buried in a cemetery in Lombardy.
Father Diego Lorenzi had been the priest secretary to Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice, and then served in the same capacity for the 33 days Luciani reigned as Pope John Paul I. A member of the Don Orione Fathers, formally known as the “Sons of Divine Providence,” Lorenzi returned to a series of pastoral assignments within the order after John Paul I died in 1978.
In 1996, Lorenzi was asked by his superiors to go to Payatas in the Philippines, a Manila slum, where the Orione fathers staff the Mother of Divine Providence Parish. Payatas is home to one of the largest garbage dumps in the world, an area of 7,000 acres with a concentration of 4,500 tons of garbage. When Lorenzi eventually returned to Italy to move into a Orione institute outside Milan, he continued to be active in raising support for the mission in Payatas.
Today 83, Lorenzi lives in a religious institute in the town of Erba, located near the city of Como in northern Italy.
The longtime priest secretary to Pope John Paul II, Stanislaw Dziwisz, was named the Archbishop of Krakow in Poland in June 2005, just three months after John Paul’s death in April. He was created a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2006 and governed the Krakow archdiocese until his resignation in December 2016.
In retirement, Dziwisz, now 83, continues to be active in promoting the legacy of Pope John Paul II. Recently he attended the consecration ceremony for Bishop Slawomir Oder, the postulator for the sainthood cause of John Paul II, who’s now the new bishop of the Diocese of Gliwice in southern Poland.
Given this history, Gänswein was an anomaly among ex-papal secretaries for remaining in Rome, a situation related to the greater anomaly of having a retired pontiff still living on Vatican grounds. Should he indeed be named to Costa Rica, or to some other position outside the Eternal City, it therefore would be basically a return to form.
As a footnote, this will be less of an issue after Pope Francis, who has not relied on a single priest secretary who’s become identified with him, but rather a succession of figures over the course of his pontificate.