This is the second installment of a series of who’s who in the Vatican, a series that will very likely appear quite irregularly. In it, I take a look at the men – and women – in Rome, who work to guide and shepherd the Church all over the world.
When the pope is working, which is during most of his daytime hours, one man is there to make sure the Holy Father has all he needs to shepherd the Church through her day-to-day affairs, from correspondence to speeches, lectures and his reading glasses. He is Msgr. Georg Gänswein, the personal secretary of the pope.
He was born in 1956 in the village of Riedern am Wald, in the far south of Germany, not too far from the Swiss border. In 1984 he was ordained a priest and he became a Doctor in Canon Law in 1993. Three years later, Cardinal Ratzinger invited Msgr. Gänswein to become an official of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Then things developed fast. In 2000 he became a Chaplain of His Holiness and in 2003 he replaced Bishop Josef Clemens as Cardinal Ratzinger’s secretary. A year after the cardinal became Pope Benedict XVI, Msgr. Gänswein was appointed as his personal secretary.
Georg Gänswein is rather popular in Rome, where he has earned the nicknames ‘Padre Georg’ and even ‘Bel Giorgio’ for his looks. Media reports of the pope’s first visits abroad usually never failed to notice the new man where the elderly Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz used to sit. The changes in apparel that became visible during the initial years of Benedict’s papacy have often been considered to be the influence of Msgr. Gänswein: Prada shoes (or rather what were assumed to be Prada), but also chasubles, mitres and other liturgical clothing. In how far Msgr. Gänswein is truly responsible for this renewed focus on traditional appearance (as opposed to, say, Msgr. Guido Marini) is up for debate, of course. The papal secretary is very much an assistant to the pope, not a man to pursue his own agenda. It is not his place to advocate change in whatever area. Pope Benedict XVI can do that very well himself.
During normal working days, the pope and his secretary usually have breakfast together and take an after-lunch stroll to the Vatican gardens. Msgr. Gänswein makes sure the pope gets to see the correspondence and other paperwork he needs to see or sign, and also schedules upcoming appointments and audiences.
Georg Gänswein is a man to be noticed, certainly because he is part of the small household staff of the pope. He is said to be a very intelligent and analytical thinker (something of a given when one works closely with this pope), but also a tennis player, skier and football player, and he even has his pilot’s license. Msgr. Gänswein is instrumental in the day-to-day affairs of the Catholic Church, certainly when it comes to the affairs of the visible head of that Church, Pope Benedict XVI.