Archbishop Gänswein’s post-Vatican future beginning to take shape

Archbishop Georg Gänswein Archbishop Georg Gänswein was the personal secretary of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. | Credit: ACI Press

The longtime personal secretary of Pope Benedict XVI, who was ordered to vacate the Vatican earlier this month by Pope Francis, will not take on a permanent position in his home archdiocese of Freiburg.

Instead, Archbishop Georg Gänswein will be an honorary canon in the Freiburg cathedral, where he is expected to preside over liturgies beginning this fall.

The archdiocese made the announcement on Monday, shortly after a meeting between Gänswein and the local ordinary, Archbishop Stephan Burger.

“It is possible, after consultation with Archbishop Burger, to accept individual orders such as confirmations or local festive services,” the archdiocese said, according to local reports. Gänswein is reportedly residing in an apartment at the Freiburg seminary.

Some have speculated that Gänswein not receiving an official position in Freiburg should be perceived as a slight, but this view is contested by a local canon lawyer, who spoke to German Catholic media.

“I would have bet on such an agreement,” said Georg Bier of the outcome of Gänswein’s meeting with Burger. Bier explained that because Gänswein was appointed as titular archbishop by the Vatican, he is no longer a priest of the Archdiocese of Freiburg and could not technically receive instructions from the local ordinary.

“Both bishops do not commit themselves to anything but assure each other of their mutual willingness to help out in individual cases, as necessary,” Bier said of the arrangement between Gänswein and Burger.

Before his July 7 departure, the 66-year-old archbishop had lived in Rome for nearly 30 years. He had served as Benedict XVI’s personal secretary from 2003 until the late pope’s death this past December. Benedict also appointed him to serve as the prefect of the papal household in 2012, a role he carried into the pontificate of Pope Francis.

On June 15, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had directed Gänswein to return to his home diocese in Germany “for the time being.” The same report also indicated Gänswein’s role as prefect of the Papal Household had officially concluded on Feb. 28 and that he had not been given a new mission.

Pope Francis’ dismissal of Gänswein came after notably tense relations between the two. In January 2020, the pope reportedly asked the German prelate to “stay at home from now on” over Gänswein’s involvement in the publication of a book on priestly celibacy during the Pan-Amazonian Synod that initially listed Pope Benedict as co-author. Gänswein retained his title as prefect, but his duties were effectively suspended, an experience he elaborated upon in a tell-all book published immediately after Pope Benedict’s death.

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