English Transcript of Archbishop Gänswein's EWTN Germany Interview
In a recent wide-ranging interview on EWTN Germany, Archbishop Georg Gänswein discussed several key contemporary issues including his own controversial remark that, by resigning, Benedict XVI expanded the Petrine office.
During the candid conversation with German author Paul Badde (see full transcript below), the Pope Emeritus’ personal secretary stood by his comment, but also underlined that there are not two popes, and that Francis has full authority.
“There is no competition or rivalry,” Archbishop Gänswein argues. “When applying common sense, faith and a little theology, that should be clear.”
Archbishop Gänswein, who further serves under Pope Francis as prefect of the Pontifical Household, also fielded questions on these issues:
- Benedict XVI’s reaction to the lightening bolt that struck St. Peter’s basilica on the night of the announcement of his resignation.
- How the resignation changed Archbishop Gänswein’s life.
- Archbishop Gänswein’s most profound and saddest days during Benedict’s pontificate (respectively, Benedict’s election and Bishop Williamson’s anti-Semitic comments).
- Whether there was a perceptible change following Benedict’s resignation, after prayers for the Pope were transferred to Francis.
- What Benedict enjoys most after retiring?
- What will probably be Benedict’s lasting legacy?
- What has become of the dossier on the Roman Curia drawn up by the “three cardinal commission” that investigated the Vatileaks scandal?
- His views on how Curial reform is progressing.
- Whether more bishops have the “smell of the sheep”, as Pope Francis has encouraged.
- His views on the alleged prophecies of Malachy and that some believe the prophecy points to Francis being the last Pope.
- His feelings about not seeing the lights on in the papal apartments in the apostolic palace.
- Archbishop Gänswein’s childhood dream of becoming a Carthusian.
Paul Badde: Good day, Mr. Archbishop!
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Good day, Mr. Badde!
Paul Badde: I am glad to welcome you on behalf of EWTN here at seconda loggia, where I want to talk to you about Benedict XVI's pontificate, since you are still his secretary. First, a question for recall from your memories: What do you recall thinking on the evening of February 11, 2013, when a lightning bolt hit the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, after Pope Benedict had resigned earlier that day?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: I remember the storm, but I did not witness the lightning with my own eyes. Indeed, I noticed it the first time in a photo and after that, of course, many more times. The impression was one of a sign from above, a reaction, which you might – or even must – associate with the happenings of that morning. So, it was some kind of reaction. Then, I wondered whether it meant something good or whether it was meant to say "Take care.”
Paul Badde: I still remember the tremendous noise. How did the Holy Father react?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: As far as I remember, Benedict only noticed the rumble – only the sound and not the sight of the lightning. I showed him some photos in the news of the lightning. That was perhaps one or two days later; I do not quite recall anymore. He asked me, "Is that real or a photo composite?" In fact, it was real; it is obvious that nature had spoken here very clearly.
Paul Badde: It sounded like a roar from the underworld. It reminded me of the rainbow that appeared in Auschwitz during Pope Benedict XVI.'s visit. Were you there?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Yes, I was there. Actually, there were two rainbows; I remember that very clearly. We drove there and the weather was brutally bad. It was raining, so we were prepared to give the speech standing under an umbrella. However, once we got out of the car, the rain stopped and while the Pope was delivering his speech, this rainbow – that no one had been looking for – just showed up. That was really a unique and convincing message from above.
Paul Badde: Did you reflect on that together?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: We did discuss it briefly in the evening, and we spoke more about it in the car during the ride, since that is when you have some time to talk. It helps to ease the stress, when you do not discuss important issues and difficult topics, but you talk about what you have just experienced. So, the rainbow was a welcome invitation to talk. Not only did it touch Benedict, but it even fascinated him.
Paul Badde: On the evening of February 28, 2013, the whole world could see your tears when you left the Pope. You were as sad as if it was a funeral. You seemed almost in shock. Since then, you have passionately defended this step. How did you manage to make peace with the decision, which changed your life from one second to the next?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: You are right, leaving the Palazzo here on February 28th was very painful and it hurt me much. We went down out of the Palazzo, crossed Damasushof, took the car to the helipad and had the helicopter take us to Castel Gandolfo. Indeed, I found myself compelled to openly cry. I was not able to keep myself together anymore. Three years have passed since that day and much has happened in the meantime. There has been a lot of reflection, personal reflection included. Also, many things have occurred on the outside. Pope Benedict was — and to this day all the more is — very much at peace with his decision to resign and that it was the right step to take. That helped me personally to overcome my initial resistance and accept what Pope Benedict truly realized after much struggle and prayer, what he found to be the right thing and then decided on.
Paul Badde: It was a very sad day. What was the happiest day in your service for Pope Benedict?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: I do not know whether it was the happiest day, but it was perhaps the most incisive day: The Election Day [in 2005]. At the time, Cardinal Ratzinger had chosen me to follow him to the conclave as a so-called Ecclesiasticus. Along with the doctors and everyone else, who were not allowed to be present at the election, we waited with excitement for the outcome in the Sala Regia or in the Sala delle Benedizioni. It was a peculiar atmosphere. When then the door to the Sistine Chapel opened and the youngest of the cardinals came out, saying that they had reached a decision, I saw Pope Benedict in the back standing under the Last Judgment artwork, dressed all in white. That was the most incisive moment in my whole life.
Paul Badde: Because your life has changed from one second to the other.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: It was a great turning point in his life and, indirectly, of course, in mine as well.
Paul Badde: You were appointed archbishop on January 6, 2013. At the time, you had already known for months that he would resign soon.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: I knew it, yes.
Paul Badde: How did you manage to stay so cheerful and relaxed? You were very happy on this day.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: It was the day of my Episcopal Ordination, which is the fulfillment of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and it was celebrated by Benedict himself in a very solemn act – maybe the most solemn worship which I have ever experienced. It moved me like nothing before and nothing after. Sure, it was not easy for me, after Pope Benedict had told me about his resignation under the seal of papal secrecy, of course. I had tried to accept what he had chosen for him. The fact that he shared his decision with me in high confidence demonstrates that he had put much trust in me, which, however, means that he expects me to be worthy of his trust and keep silent. And I have kept his secret, even if I struggled with the Lord from time to time. But eventually, I am proud to say "Thank God, I have persevered."
Paul Badde: Now we have the saddest day and the best day. So, which day do you regret the most, looking back at the time of the pontificate?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Regret? I regret the day I stayed in bed, as I was sick, when I saw all the difficulties connected to the name Williamson rolling towards the Pope like an avalanche that came, and no one knew where to go. There was no escape. That was the most difficult and the saddest day, but also the most painful day in my life as Pope Benedict´s secretary.
Paul Badde: And you were too paralyzed to intervene?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: I could not intervene, because it was just too late. Benedict has indeed said much about this case, but most importantly, he has written the famous letter to the Bishops – which is unique. I will never forget the day of March 10, 2010, when he published this famous letter, in which he said what had to be said, and I agree with that position.
Paul Badde: We know from exorcisms about the strength of prayer. Prayers can even cast out demons! Sometimes I have thought – and I think so to this day – that the papacy requires more than what is humanly possible, and that it can be only carried out by the support of these millions of prayers for the Pope, which are prayed daily – every morning, in every Mass, every night, in all Masses, worldwide. What was the difference, when all these prayers were suddenly removed from the Pope? Was it not an enormous fallout and could you physically feel it?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Yes, that was indeed a small departure from the norm. I do not know if, in fact as you described, the prayers were removed from him at once. Surely, with the election of Pope Francis, the official prayers for the Pope passed to him – and rightly so. It was the same with John Paul II., and Benedict XVI. Based on many letters and contacts, I can say that the prayer commitments are still enormous and looking at communications, I would even say they have increased.
Paul Badde: They have increased?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Yes, and I am convinced that Pope Benedict has not been forgotten as far as prayers are concerned, but that many people still pray for him.
Paul Badde: Can you tell us what Benedict enjoys the most after retiring?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: He had certainly been looking forward to the time that he now has, time with the Lord. That is time for prayer, for reflection and reading — but also for personal encounters.
Paul Badde: Could one say that he is now living like a monk?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: He says so himself. He says “Yes, I have retired; I live in a monastery. I have a monastic life style.” Since I am with him every day and I can confirm this.
Paul Badde: I know a number of Cardinals who are still upset when hearing that the Church currently has two living successors to Peter. Recently, you spoke about an expanded Petrine office, which Pope Benedict is said to have introduced. Could you explain that a bit further?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Yes, you hint at a book launch of an Italian professor, Roberto Regoli, who has written a book dealing with a first evaluation of the pontificate. He is a professor at the Gregorian University, where the book was also presented. I was one of the two persons presenting it and yes, I have spoken of an exponentiated [enlarged] pontificate. To make this very clear, because I saw from among the reactions that I was imputed to have said a number of things that I did not say: Of course, Pope Francis is the legitimate and legitimately elected Pope. Any talk of two Popes, one legitimate, one illegitimate, is, therefore, incorrect. What I did, in fact, say, and what Benedict also said, was that he continues to be present in prayer and sacrifice, in the "Recinto" of Saint Peter (which is placed outside the walls of the Vatican,) which bears spiritual fruit for his successors and the Church. That is what I meant. For three years, we have had two Popes living, and I stress that the reality of the perception of conflict is covered by what I have explained.
Paul Badde: So, if I have understood correctly, he has remained in service, but in the contemplative role only, without authority to decide. Does that mean that we have now, as you said, an active and a contemplative part, which together form an extension of munus petrinum?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: That is how I said it. To be more precise, it is very clear that Pope Francis owns the plena potestas, the plenitudine potestatis (full authority). He is the one holding the succession of Peter. As I have said as well – there are no difficulties. There is no competition or rivalry. When applying common sense, faith and a little theology, that should be clear.
Paul Badde: Can you imagine two papi emeriti, two retired Popes who live in the gardens or three, or even a papal office of four?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Pope Benedict has in fact opened a door when he took this step. I am not a prophet to say whether further Popes will follow him, but personally, I have no difficulties to find it realistic.
Paul Badde: And if necessary to make room for Pope Francis…
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Whether it will be the same place or another, is actually secondary or tertiary.
Paul Badde: Your father was a blacksmith and "a tree of a man", as you have once said. How would you characterize your Holy Father Benedict? He, instead, was obviously not a "tree of a man.” Is there a sentence, a phrase, with which you could describe him?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Pope Benedict is the person who embodies mental clarity to me – and he does so with an incredibly intellectual presence, as well as with a disarming gentleness. I do not know any person like him. He has become a lasting role model for me, as well as a great person of reference.
Paul Badde: What will remain of his pontificate?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Time will tell and history will show that the major topics that Pope Benedict has addressed and that initially were challenges to the Office, and that his answers to these issues or challenges, have consolidated and shaped the Church’s foundation. That will remain.
Paul Badde: Mercy is Pope Francis' great keyword. Is there a keyword for Benedict's pontificate as well?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Benedict has a fundamental word that always accompanies him, from when he was a professor, and a cardinal – I have mentioned that as well at the book launch. It is Veritas, the truth. The key is that truth became man in Christ, and truth is the great theme of Benedict’s life, a theme which has repeatedly appeared in his life in various forms.
Paul Badde: That means that we know the truth in Jesus Christ, in whom it has found a face. So, Benedict has left his successor a controversial dossier regarding the situation in the Vatican. For three years now, Pope Francis has tried to reform the Curia. Before Christmas 2014, he criticized them dramatically. A twofold question: Does the reform of the Curia already show any effects? And is there a connection to the dossier, which the Pope has left for his successor?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: First, to clarify: The dossier, which Pope Benedict had left for his successor on that 23rd March, 2013 in Castel Gandolfo, marks the first meeting of the two. I am talking about the dossier of the Cardinal Commission, the three Cardinals personally selected by Pope Benedict and asked to examine the so-called Vatileaks-situation, in order to bring some light into the darkness. These three Cardinals reported to the Pope only – there was no intermediary, and they did a good job. They delivered the fruits of their labor, including all the documents and related documentation to Pope Benedict, who took them with him to Castel Gandolfo.
Paul Badde: In the helicopter?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: (Nods, with a small laugh) Yes, and then he has passed them there to Pope Francis. Regarding the question about the reform of the Curia and whether it shows effects or not, I have much to say. Especially at the beginning of the pontificate, many theses have been trumpeted, assuming the Curia was in a disastrous state: Everything was in disarray and it was way past time to reform everything, not only the IOR, but also everything one would understand as Curia. I have 20 years’ experience now, and I think, well, some of those who have a lot to say about the Curia, know it only from the yellow press, or have no precise knowledge, and they should take a step back and slow down. Of course, there were, and there are, some difficulties and even some necessities to bring about change regarding specific issues. How much all of that falls under the scope of a reform of the Curia is a different question. Looking at it seriously, not much has changed. Sure, two new bodies have been created. We will see, whether they will clarify much.
Regarding the IOR or the so-called Vatican Bank, work continues that began under Pope Benedict. It is clear and simple: A reform in that matter needs time until it shows effects. With regard to the so-called reform of the Curia, I am very curious about what the final product, the outcome, the eventual result will be. I am excited, and I like getting surprised.
Paul Badde: Shortly after his election, Pope Francis maintained that the shepherds must have the “smell of the herd.” You know many Bishops. Have they changed, or do they now simply leave their aftershave off?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Well, in terms of external behavior, there are quite a number of visible changes. I do not dare to say, whether that has altered the inner attitude and behavior as well. I am not the confessor of these gentlemen, and I have too little contact with them, to make a sincere and honest statement. I can only hope that external changes correspond to an inner attitude and that they do not serve to conceal something, or last as long as one is here in the Vatican, and do not revert to old ways once they get out of sight.
Paul Badde: “The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church which is built on the rock of Peter,” says the evangelist Matthew. How do you feel about the prophecies of Malachy, which assumingly derive from St. Philip Neri, and which end with Pope Francis in the order of the Popes?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Yesterday, May 26, was the Feast of the Holy Philip Neri. Indeed, when looking at the prophecy and considering how there was always a sound reference to Popes mentioned in its history — that gives me the shivers – I admit that honestly. However, it [the prophecy] is in no part of the Book of Revelation; no one is required to accept the prophecy of St. Malachy. But from an historical perspective, one has to say, "Yes, it is a wake-up call.”
Paul Badde: Personally, I have to say that I miss the light from the rooms of the Palazzo [Papal Apartments] when I walk by in St. Peter’s Square in the evening. How do you feel when you see the apartment, where you lived for so long, which has now become dark?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: In the evening, I am usually in a small room, preparing the post for the next day and I have other things to do, so that I do not see the Palazzo a lot at night. Of course, I have seen it several times. When I walk the Via della Conicliazione – which is mostly when I come from out of town – I am very keen on walking there, because it is good and helpful for me. So, when I walk towards St. Peter's Square, I look at the Palazzo and notice that some lights are still switched on in the Prima Loggia, where the Cardinal Secretary of State is. Noticing the second and third loggia to be dark, however, I feel a little wistful. I had to get used to it and I do not know if I will ever get used to the sight of dark windows in the evening.
Paul Badde: We come to the last question. One day, you spoke about your dream, your childhood dream, to become a Carthusian. Do you still have dreams and what are they?
Archbishop Georg Gänswein: Indeed, it appealed to me when in the second semester of theology, I went with a friend for a week to the Marienau, in the Charterhouse in the Allgäu. Back then, I actually felt this call, so I talked to an old Carthusian who advised me: "Listen, if the call you are receiving is serious, it will stay. First, however, go back and finish your studies – you would have had to finish them anyway if you joined us now. Moreover, if the dear Lord wants you to become a Carthusian, then he will make sure you will in five or six years as well. If not – then the call was perhaps just a little voice triggered from the moment of enthusiasm." I took his advice to heart and in fact, in the course of my study, it became obvious that the good Lord intended something else for me. Calling it a dream would be an exaggeration. Sometimes I wish to be more inclined with real pastoral care, though, and to adopt more “the smell of a sheep” – to say it with a reference to Pope Francis. Here, instead, the smell of the second loggia and the smell of the Vatican are still very strong. I try to make a little more time for it, but currently it is impossible – I simply do not have time. So I try to adapt and to pass on the smell that spreads here in the Vatican.
Paul Badde: Dear Archbishop, thank you very much for this interview. We wish that the good Lord will continue to hold you in His hands.
- Where the Pope holds private audiences with heads of state. Loggia is the level or floor, numbered Prima, Seconda.
 The Institute for the Works of Religion ( IOR), commonly known as the Vatican Bank, is a privately held institute in Vatican City, run by a Board of Superintendents who report to a Supervisory Commission of Cardinals and the Pope. Pope Francis created a commission to study potential reforms.