Archbishop George Gänswein has sought to reassure the faithful that Pope Francis will adhere to the Church’s teaching on Holy Communion and civilly remarried divorcees.
In an interview over the weekend with Deutsche Welle, the prefect of the Pontifical Household, who is also Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s private secretary, said it is “not the first time” that a pope has tried to tackle this question, but that he was “convinced” that Francis “will continue on the path of his predecessors —that is to say, also according to the Church’s Magisterium.”
The German prelate’s comments come after Cardinal Walter Kasper said last week the Pope’s imminent post-synodal apostolic exhortation — his summary conclusions on the Synods on the Family — will represent “the first step in a reform” that will mark the “turning of a page” in the Church’s history “after 1,700 years."
Cardinal Kasper, who has been controversially pushing for some remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion after a “penitential period”, said the Pope would “definitively express himself on family issues addressed during the last Synod, and in particular on the participation of the divorced and remarried faithful in the active life of the Catholic community.”
Asked in the interview about how the Pope might change the Church more generally, Archbishop Gänswein stressed that the “Catholic Church is a large ship” that needs to be steered with “care, prudence, and depth”. It’s not like a “paddle boat that you can get into one morning and change everything,” he said. “It takes time.”
But he said Pope Francis “has a clear path, this path isn’t hidden, but he shows it, he follows this path.” Pope Francis is the head of the universal Church, Archbishop Gänswein reminded viewers, and “one sees that he is firmly in control.” Concerning reform, he said the Pope has “himself awoken some expectations”, others have approached him with their own expectations, but at the moment, he couldn’t say how these will be played out.
The apostolic exhortation, which the Holy Father is thought to have signed last Saturday, is now being translated. The Vatican has said it will be published in the first half of April.
During his interview with Deutsche Welle, Archbishop Gänswein also rejected speculation the Pope may change the Latin Rite’s tradition of priestly celibacy. Pope Francis, he said, is a “Jesuit of the Old School” and, for him, celibacy is not a problem. It is “not an obstacle, it is a challenge, but also a source of strength,” Archbishop Gänswein said, adding: “I do not believe that under Pope Francis, there will now be a change in this question [of] celibacy."
His comments come after reports alleging the Pope, speaking mostly privately on a number of occasions, has expressed his intention to change the priestly celibacy rule.
In February 2015, he reportedly disclosed that he wishes to discuss the issue, telling twelve priests, five of whom had left the ministry to get married, that “the problem is present on my agenda.” He appeared to go further the following month, privately telling an old friend of his plans to change important but "archaic" rules including the "centuries-old ban" on Catholic priests from getting married. In 2014, he said in an interview that he was working on a “solution” to the issue, saying it “needs time but there are solutions and I will find them.” And speaking to reporters on his way back from the Middle East the same year, he said that while he valued priestly celibacy, “the door is always open” to change.