The shadow pontificate is drawing to a close

Catholic women

It was only a matter of time.

Pope Francis has finally lost his patience and gotten rid of Archbishop Georg Ganswein as prefect of the Papal Household.

According to the German weekly, Die Tagespost, the pope put the 63-year-old on “indefinite administrative leave.”

He did so, the paper said, because of the German prefect’s involvement in a controversial book that Benedict XVI co-authored with Cardinal Robert Sarah.

It was a slim volume that most people saw as a warning to Francis, that he dare not even consider allowing the ordination of married priests.

Ganswein, who lives with Benedict and is his longtime personal secretary, was seen – rightly or wrongly – as the man ultimately responsible for dragging the retired pope into the book project.

Of course, Pope Francis did not officially sack the German archbishop. He could hardly do so, given Ganswein’s close relationship to Benedict. That would shatter the myth that the former pope and current pope are in perfect sync and harmony.

They are not. The truer reality is that these two men in white have been living respectfully towards each other under an unwritten (and unspoken) non-aggression treaty. Firing the man some call “Gorgeous George” would fuel speculation that this pact has been annulled.

A Kremlin-style purge

The Vatican’s spokespersons have been embarrassed by the media’s reaction to the sideling of Ganswein. The Holy See Press Office explained that there had simply been “an ordinary redistribution” of the prefect’s “various commitments and duties.”

It actually looked suspiciously more like a purge, according to Italian colleague Francesco Peloso, who described the press office’s explanation as reminiscent of the “golden years of the Kremlin.”

So what is really going on here?

The Tagespost article, which first broke the news of Ganswein’s administrative leave, seems extremely credible for no other reason than the fact that the politically conservative paper is close to Benedict XVI and his inner circle (i.e. his private secretary). Last December the former pope launched something called, “The Tagespost School for Catholic Journalism.”

In its recent article, the paper said Ganswein would now be able to devote all his energies to helping the 92-year-old Benedict who is in declining health. This has led to further speculation that the former pope is now in the last stage of his earthly life.

We do not know for sure, but it is possible. One Italian newspaper gave further credence to that by reporting that the German archbishop has just been assigned a new apartment inside the Vatican.

Obviously, he will need another place to live once Benedict has died.

What’s next for “Don Giorgio”?

There have been rumours over the past several months that, once the new constitution for the reformed Roman Curia is published (likely within the next few months), Ganswein would be transferred to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

He would replace the current secretary, Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, who is already past the retirement age of 75.

That was before the kerfuffle over the Sarah-Benedict book.

But where else could Francis assign him? It is inconceivable that he would send Gänswein back to Germany to head a diocese since there has been vocal resistance from the priests and people there every time the possibility has been raised.

Parking “Don Giorgio” at a desk job in Rome looks to be about the best alternative. It’s hard to imagine that he’d voluntarily seek to return to parish ministry, of which he has only limited experience or volunteer to serve in the missions.

This was not supposed to happen

Ironically, it was Benedict XVI who caused this predicament.

He did so quite unintentionally. In fact, he believed he had done everything possible to ensure his personal secretary would hold important posts the rest of his priestly life, perhaps even rising to the rank of cardinal.

Of course, that is still possible. But only if there is a backlash to Francis’ pontificate at the next conclave (or the one after that) and a loyalist to Benedict is elected.

And that’s where Ganswein future has always rested. Continue reading

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