Archbishop Georg Gänswein has given an interesting interview to the German newspaper Die Zeit, during which he fields some very direct and pertinent questions about serving under Pope Francis.

In particular, he says there is no difference between Francis and Benedict over allowing communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

The prefect of the Pontifical Household, who also continues to serve as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s private secretary, is in a privileged position and so able to shed some light on the inner workings of Francis' pontificate – although he insists he is unaware who the Holy Father’s closest advisers are.

In the interview, which was translated from the original German by Mark de Vries of the In Caelo et in Terra blog, Archbishop Gänswein says there was a mix of “surprise, shock and incomprehension” among curial colleagues in response to the Pope’s Christmas greetings to the Curia.

He also says Francis is more skillful than his predecessor at handling the media, and denies that the Pope is more concerned about pastoral care than doctrine, saying the two are not in opposition.

Asked whether Francis and his predecessor differ on the issue of commununion for Catholic 'remarried' divorcees, he says:

“I do not share that impression. It creates an artificial opposition which does not exist. The Pope is the first guarantor and keeper of the doctrine of the Church and at the same the first shepherd, the first pastor. Doctrine and pastoral care are not in opposition, they are like twins.”

He adds:

"I know of no doctrinal statements from Pope Francis which are contrary to the statements of his predecessor. That would be absurd too. It is one thing to emphasise the pastoral efforts more clearly because the situation requires it. It is something else entirely to make a change in teaching. I can only act pastorally sensitive, consistent and conscientious when I do so on the basis of full Catholic teaching. The substance of the sacraments is not left to the discretion of pastors, but has been given to the Church by the Lord. That is also and especially true for the sacrament of marriage."

The German prelate also says the timing of the revision of Benedict XVI’s collected works to appear at the time of last year’s synod was “absolutely unforeseen”. The revision includes a stricter approach to the divorce and remarriage issue.

He says talk of an antipope among some theologians and journalists is “simply stupid and also irresponsible”, and goes so far as to say it comes close to “theological arson”.

Asked about Benedict XVI’s recent message in which he wrote “The elimination of truth is lethal for the faith,” Gänswein calls it a “theological classic” that “much impressed” Francis who “thanked him for it.”

On Benedict XVI in retirement, he says:

“He is at peace with himself and convinced that the decision was right and necessary. It was a decision of conscience that was well prayed and suffered over, and in that man stands alone before God.”   

H/T Diane Korzeniewski of the Te Deum Laudamus blog,