Life after Benedict

 From Secretary to Archbishop

With the departure of Pope Benedict XVI., the question coms up, which turns the career of his private secretary Georg Gänswein will take. The 56-year old southern German could become an important link between the old and the new Pope or take over one of the large German dioceses as Archbishop.

Even during the last hours bevore his retirement, the always loyal Gänswein did not leave the Pope’s side. He will also spend the upcoming weeks in the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo with him, and after that move in the convent of Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican with the former Pope, which is being renovated for Benedict.

Benedict XVI. had installed Gänswein as the Prefect of the Papal Household only in December and simultaneously appointed him Archbishop. The new Archbishop was assigned the titular see “Urbs Salvia” (Italian: Urbisaglia) in the central Italian region of Marche. Thus, Monsignor Gänswein moved a bit up the stairs in the Church hierarchy, what had been expected in Rome for a long time.

Soon servant of two Popes?

Gänswein could subsequently come in for a double function: He is supposed to work for the old and the to be elected new Pope. Gänswein would “remain Prefect of the Papal Household, and secretary of Benedict,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi announced just recently.

The role of the Prefect of the Papal Household is a key role for the daily routine of the Pope, as he is among other things responsible for the reception of heads of state. Continuity on this field seems to make sense But it holds room for speculation: If he stays as private secretary intimately connected with Benedict and also organizes a part of the everyday life of the new Pope, it is likely to raise questions about whether or not Benedict would be trying to influence the church through Gänswein.

“Bel Giorgio” got onto the track of the leaker

So far, Gänswein, the eldest of five children of a blacksmith and a housewife, born in the German state of Baden-Württemberg on July 30 1956, has not struck attention through public statements. Even in times of Vatileaks and Vatican infightings, Gänswein always persued his work quietly. AFter all it was him, who unmasked the valet Paolo Gabriele, to have passed on the confidential documents.

The Secretary of the Pope never attracted much attention, but since pictures were published by a gossip magazine, showing him on the tennis court, “Bel Giorgio”(George the Handsome) Gänswein, due to his attractive appearance sometimes called “George Clooney of the Vatican” and “most beautiful man in a cassock”, has become a star in Italy. Instead of as usually beeing shown in a cassock, the gossip magazine showed Gänswein wearing a polo shirt and shorts. In January, he even appeared on the cover of the Italian Edition of “Vanity Fair”. Whenever Gänswein positioned himself with regards to content, it was always in the conservative line of Joseph Ratzinger.

Possible return to Germany

The speculation about Gänsweis’s future lead in two directions: either he remains in the Vatican, where he will have a lot of influence, given his many contacts, or he returns to his homeland.

Soon, for reasons of age, there will be changes in several important German dioceses. Both, the Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, as the Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisner face their retirement. It can therefore not be ruled out, that the new Pope will entrust Gänswein with this postion in appreciation of his work, or even to cut the connection to Benedict.

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