Benedict XVI in the eyes of his personal secretary

Confessions of Msgr. Georg Gänswein, the personal secretary to Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI.

Wlodzimierz Redzioch: – For six years you have lived in the Apostolic Palace with the ‘papal family.’ Who are the members and how is work organised in the papal apartment?

Rev. Msgr. Georg Gänswein: – There are seven people in the papal apartment: the Holy Father, two secretaries and four women from the association of consecrated life ‘Memores Domini.’ The organisation of work is very simple since everyone knows what to do and everyone does his/her job. That’s why everything is in order.

– How does Benedict XVI work?

– The Holy Father is an indefatigable man, very much concentrated on work and he is disciplined. But the Pope himself answers this question in his interview given to Peter Seewald.

– Let me quote the Pope’s words, ‘There are so many things to do that one can work all the time. And it is a mistake. Not following activism means preserving «consideratio», perspective, insight, profound look, time of inner being with God to consider matters with him and through him; discerning things and dealing with them. That’s why the Pope’s day is filled with meditation, reading the Bible, reflecting on God. One cannot simple work on acts. I also read them as much as I can, but I always remember the challenge of St Bernard not to be lost in activism’ (we can read these words in the Pope’s interview). As for the Holy Father’s work there is the myth that Benedict XVI is living and working in isolation in the Apostolic Palace, that he has lost contact with the reality of the contemporary world…

– These are only gossips that have nothing to do with the reality. It is sufficient to look at the daily schedule of the Pope – how many meetings, how many duties! Moreover, the official communiqués in ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ do not say about many jobs of the Holy Father – these activities are done with much discretion.

– It is not the only myth related to the Pope’s life. Another one shows Benedict XVI as ‘the panzer cardinal,’ a cold and relentless guard of the Catholic doctrine whose shyness is taken as arrogance and pride. How can one refute the opinions that harm the Holy Father?

– You are right speaking about false myths that are also unfair. They result from prejudices and do not become true only because someone keeps repeating them. However, those who look at the Holy Father’s activities without prejudices can come to their own and true judgements. After six years of his pontificate this false myth was refuted since Benedict XVI, thanks to his warmth as well as spontaneous and natural simplicity, has managed to win people’s hearts effortlessly.

– Recently in Italy there has been published a book written by two Vatican experts who have analysed the attacks against Benedict XVI. The journalists claim that not only the Holy Father’s internal enemies but also two groups of external enemies have contested him. The first group embraces those who do not agree with the Pope’s interpretation of the Second Vatican Council because they see the council as a break with the Tradition; the other group includes all those who criticise the Pope for his faithfulness to ‘Humanae vitae’ and contest the Magisterium of the Church in reference to morality and bioethics. Do you agree with such an analysis of the attacks against Benedict XVI?

– I have not participated in these journalistic and intellectual divagations concerning alleged friends and enemies of the Pope. What counts is the transparency of the papal message as well as the unique and convincing language of the Magisterium. All other things are speculations.

– Speaking about the attacks against the Pope one cannot omit the scandal connected with the sex abuses of the juvenile some priests have committed. How is Benedict XVI experiencing this tragedy?

– It has been a very painful and difficult time. The Holy Father spoke openly about it to Seewald. I refer you to the book but I would like to quote at least a few sentences of the Pope. Among other things he says that for him this matter did not appear completely unexpectedly. Working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he dealt wish such American cases; he also knew how the situation developed in Ireland. Bust such a scale of the problem was still an extraordinary shock. […] Seeing such a dirtied priesthood, and consequently the whole Church has been harmed in something that was such a deepest thing for her – one should really deal with it. But it was also important not to lose our clear sight of the good that is in the Church, and not to have these terrible things overshadow the Church.

– Chesterton claimed that democracy could be introduced in the Church provided that all former generations of believers would have been allowed to vote. I am thinking about this reflection of Chesterton when today the advocates of ‘democratisation’ of the Church accuse Benedict XVI that he has transformed himself from a progressive theologian to a pope-traditionalist. Is Benedict XVI a traditionalist?

– It is yet another well-worn platitude. It is sufficient to get to know the writings of Professor and Cardinal Ratzinger and now the Bishop of Rome to treat this commonplace as an ordinary prejudice. The reality is completely different. If someone has eyes, let him see! If someone has reason, let him use it!

– Many environments see the Catholic Church as a political and ideological enemy. That’s why not all people understand that the Church does not defend any political and ideological interests but only wants to lead people of all epochs to God and show them the way to salvation.

– The Church should not leave her way under the pressure of external or internal powers. What some environments ascribe to the Church is neither a norm nor a criterion of the Church’s activities. It is not anything new that the Church has not been properly understood. Ideologies just disappear as they emerged but the Church abides. But the Church must be faithful to her Lord and his message of the Good News, which should be proclaimed ‘whether it is convenient or inconvenient.’

– In the contemporary world there are forces that do their best to make people lose their faith in God, especially in God the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Why don’t people realise that without faith their lives become senseless and await death; that only faith can change ‘chronos’ – the ruthless passing of years – into ‘kairos’ – time of grace to wait for our meeting with the Father? – I have no doubts that there are forces opposing the Church and his Founder. But I believe that despite that people understand the message of St Peter’s Successor well. And the message is simple and at the same time profound: faith is not a problem that should be solved but it is a gift that should be discovered every day. Faith gives joy and fullness. This faith has the human image of Jesus Christ. In him hidden God became visible and perceptible. In his immeasurable greatness God offers himself to us in his Son.

– What are the most important challenges the Catholic Church is facing at the beginning of the new millennium?

– It is the matter of relations between faith and reason, between religion and rejection of violence. In other words, it is confirming our faith: God’s love for man, the greatest expression of which is death. Christ on the cross and his resurrection. This love is the unchangeable foundation on which Christian confidence and commitment to charity, love and rejection of violence are based.

– People had hopes that the pontificate of Benedict XVI would bring about a revival of the Catholic Church in Germany. Has it taken place? What is your opinion about the situation of the Church in Germany after these six years of Benedict XVI’s pontificate?

– In recent years faith and the Church have had to meet – for various reasons – many challenges. The Pope has been informed about it very well because he has maintained contacts with many people in Germany. We should hope that the visit of the Holy Father to be held in September 2011 will be helpful and will make people revive their spiritual lives as well as give them new energy and hope for re-evangelisation.

– Just after his election to the papacy Benedict XVI appeared in the Loggia of the Beatitudes and said the famous sentence concerning his Predecessor, ‘Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.’ What were the relationships between John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger?

– I recollect the words spoken by Benedict XVI during the Mass ending the conclave on 20 April 2005, the next day after he was elected, ‘In my soul there are two contrasting sentiments in these hours. On the one hand, a sense of inadequacy and human turmoil for the responsibility entrusted to me yesterday as the Successor of the Apostle Peter in this See of Rome, with regard to the Universal Church. On the other hand I sense within me profound gratitude to God Who - as the liturgy makes us sing - does not abandon His flock, but leads it throughout time, under the guidance of those whom He has chosen as vicars of His Son, and made pastors. Dear Ones, this intimate recognition for a gift of divine mercy prevails in my heart in spite of everything. I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II. It seems I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: 'Do not be afraid!'

– Someone has stated that John Paul II opened people’s hearts and today Benedict XVI is filling them up. Do you agree with this statement?

– John Paul II was surely a great and influential personality, also appealing to people through the language of gestures. Benedict XVI is a pope of the word; his strength is words; he is first of all a theologian who ‘speaks’ about God.

– Poles love the successor of John Paul II – one can see Polish pilgrims with Polish flags at every audience, during every apostolic visit. Impartial observers think that Benedict XVI may be loved more in Poland than in his homeland. What feelings has Benedict XVI for the Polish Church?

– I would say it is mutual love – Poles love the Pope and he loves Polish believers. I am an eye-witness of that on every occasion when the Holy Father encounters the Polish religiousness.

"Niedziela" 16/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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