Pope sends predecessor’s longtime secretary home without assignment

1 min read
Pope Francis meets Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican in this May 19, 2023, file photo. Pope Francis has directed Archbishop Gänswein to return to his home diocese of Freiburg in southwest Germany without an assignment by July 1. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has directed Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the longtime personal secretary of the late Pope Benedict XVI, to leave the Vatican and return to his home diocese in Germany without a new assignment.

Archbishop Gänswein “concluded his assignment as prefect of the Papal Household” in February, the Vatican said in a statement June 15. “The Holy Father has directed that from July 1 Archbishop Gänswein return, for the time being, to his home diocese” of Freiburg in southwest Germany, it read.

The pope has met privately with Archbishop Gänswein twice since the death of Pope Benedict Dec. 31, 2022, once in March and again in May. Both times, the archbishop’s title was listed as “prefect of the Papal Household” on the pope’s daily agenda.

The archbishop had been Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s personal secretary since 2003, when the future pope was prefect of the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was appointed prefect of the papal household in 2012 and served Pope Francis in that role until 2020 when the pope told him to assist the retired Pope Benedict full time, although he retained his title as prefect.

Archbishop Gänswein shared details about the move in his book, “Nothing but the Truth: My Life Beside Benedict XVI,” which hit shelves days after the retired pope’s death. In it, the archbishop admitted that a “climate of trust” had never been created between him and Pope Francis.

In an April interview with Argentinean newspaper La Nación, the pope said he had given Archbishop Gänswein the choice to remain in Italy or return to Germany but told him that either way he would have to leave the Vatican, and reminded him that the secretaries of previous popes, such as that of St. John Paul II, returned to their home dioceses after the pope’s death.

Justin McLellan

Justin McLellan is a journalist based in Rome with Catholic News Service. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology from the University of Notre Dame.