Archbishop Gänswein: Movement Wants to Destroy Benedict XVI’s Life and Work

Speaking to an Italian newspaper, the pope emeritus’ personal secretary noted that such people ‘never loved him as an individual, his theology, his pontificate.’

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, flanked by personal secretary Archbishop Georg Ganswein (r) arrives at the  holy Mass for the closing of the Extraordinary Synod held by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square on Oct. 19, 2014, in Vatican City.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, flanked by personal secretary Archbishop Georg Ganswein (r) arrives at the holy Mass for the closing of the Extraordinary Synod held by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square on Oct. 19, 2014, in Vatican City. (photo: Franco Origlia / Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Georg Gänswein has claimed that a movement is not only out to destroy Benedict XVI’s life and work but also views the recent accusations of mishandling abuse as an opportunity to erase him from the official memory of the Church. 

In Feb. 9 comments to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the pope emeritus’ personal secretary said he believed a movement exists “that really wants to destroy the person and the work [of Benedict XVI]. 

“It has never loved him as an individual, his theology, his pontificate,” he said.  

Archbishop Gänswein added that members of this movement see recent attacks against him as “an ideal opportunity for a reckoning, like a quest for a damnatio memoriae [condemnation of memory so a person is excluded from official accounts].”

The German archbishop was speaking shortly after Benedict released a letter to the faithful on Tuesday in which the 94-year-old pope emeritus expressed his “profound shame” and “deep sorrow” and issued a “heartfelt request for forgiveness” for the “abuses and the errors” that occurred when he served in Germany and Rome. 

“Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable,” he said. “The victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy, and I feel great sorrow for each individual case.”

But Benedict denied personally mishandling abuse cases, each detailed in an appendix to the letter compiled by four lawyers acting on Benedict XVI’s behalf. The three canonists and one attorney said all four charges made against him in a newly published report on sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising were false.

Benedict had been accused of mishandling these cases of sexual abuse when he was archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982, but the lawyers insisted that then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger was unaware at the time that any of the priests involved had records of sexual abuse. 

They also described how, in an 82-page memoir they had submitted on Benedict’s behalf to the Munich investigators for their report, the former pontiff had mistakenly stated he did not take part in a meeting in 1980 to discuss the transfer of a priest to the diocese for therapy. 

The lawyers corrected the record at the end of January, stating that then-Archbishop Ratzinger did take part in the meeting, but a mistake was made by one of Benedict’s lawyers in transferring files. The collaborators missed the erroneous entry, and Benedict XVI, under time pressure in which he “had to verify his memory in a few days,” also failed to notice the mistake.

Benedict’s enemies nevertheless used the error to launch attacks on the pope emeritus, with theologians and others accusing him of lying and perjury. 

Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the German bishops’ conference, said last month he expected Benedict XVI to apologize for his handling of abuse cases while at the same he expressed appreciation for Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich, despite Cardinal Marx facing at least two cases himself of mishandling abuse. 

‘This Vile Attack’

In his interview with Corriere della Sera, Archbishop Gänswein said that anyone who knows Benedict “knows that the accusation of having lied is absurd” and added that “a distinction must be made between making a mistake and lying.” 

He referred to comments made in L’Osservatore Romano by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who wrote of Benedict’s “profound and very high moral and intellectual honesty" and explained that “I never found in him any shadow or attempt to hide or minimize anything.” 

Archbishop Gänswein said Benedict XVI had read that article, “which was not solicited or asked for, but that’s the way it is. Those who have been close to him know well what Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI said and did regarding the whole question of pedophilia.” 

“He was the first to act as a cardinal and then he continued the line of transparency as Pope,” Archbishop Gänswein continued. “Already, during the pontificate of John Paul II, he changed the current mentality and set the line that Pope Francis is continuing.”

Benedict’s long-serving personal secretary said that, “unfortunately, many are deceived by this vile attack; there is so much mud-slinging. It’s a sad situation.” However, he said that although Benedict remains physically “very weak, as is natural at his age,” his “physical weakness takes nothing away from his spiritual and intellectual presence.”

The attacks on Benedict XVI came around the time of an important plenary meeting of Germany’s “Synodal Path,” which voted over the weekend to call for same-sex blessings; changes to the Catechism on homosexuality; the ordination of women priests; priestly celibacy to be optional in the Latin Church; and for lay involvement in the election of new bishops.