Vatican officials said on Thursday that Pope Francis has ordered Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, the late Pope Benedict’s private secretary and longtime adviser, to return to his native Germany by the end of the month without any new post.
Gaenswein was a dominant player in the Vatican for over a decade before Francis demoted him following a personal falling out. A Vatican statement ended uncertainty regarding Gaenswein’s future role in the Church.
On December 31, about 10 years after he became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, former Pope Benedict XVI passed away.
Since the pope’s decision leaves Gaenswein, who is 66, without a mission, it gives the impression that he is being banished.
Francis “had disposed” that Gaenswein, 66, return to his diocese of Freiburg “for the time being,” according to the brief statement.
Almost every previous papal secretary has been promoted to a position of prominence, such as bishop or cardinal. Bishops typically retire at the age of 75, nine years before Gaenswein would be eligible.
It has been widely reported in Catholic media and on social media that he has met with Pope Francis multiple times over the past few months to discuss his future and hopes of becoming a nuncio, or ambassador, to a foreign country.
Reuters attempted to get a statement out of Gaenswein on Thursday, but he declined.
From 2003 (while Benedict was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) until almost 10 years after Benedict resigned, he served as Benedict’s personal secretary.
The publisher of Gaenswein’s book, “Nothing But The Truth – My Life Beside Benedict XVI,” sent out advance copies to reporters just hours after Benedict’s burial on January 5. In it, Gaenswein describes what he claims were stresses while two men in white resided within the Vatican’s gates.
Many interpreted Gaenswein’s book on clerical celibacy as an attack on Francis’ authority, and he was at the center of a tumultuous dispute with former Pope Benedict in 2020.