In Rome: The right-hand man

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.

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7 thoughts on “In Rome: The right-hand man”

    1. Ha, indeed. I see he’s often compared to George Clooney in many blogs and articles. He obviously has his fans.

  1. Having been brought up a very strict catholic and no longer a catholic of any description I always have mixed feelings on seeing obviously brilliant and attractive men in the priesthood. I just cant get my mind around how a belief in a ‘supernatural’ being can cause someone to devote themselves to this life. I am sure it has its great benefits and fulfilment but always something is missing. Tis the same with muns of course. I have a good friend who is a Jesuit priest, quite young and just getting ready to leave after 20 years. Maybe a consideration of not necessarily a ‘lifetime’ of commitment would make things easier for some. That is, doing 10 or 15 years service and then returning to full life.

    1. Priesthood or a religious life does not exclude leading a full life, where one can use their ‘brilliance’. No more than any other other lifestyle does. In fact, I can think of a fair number of worse choices.

      I am not sure what you think is missing in the life of a priest. Following your vocation, whatever it may be, allows you to best use your skills to lead a full life.

      Certainly our outward appearance and our brilliance do not dictate who we are as persons.

  2. Dear Ingrid,

    If you don’t believe that we believe that Jesus is real, that one loves a real person, then it will continue to seem to you no more than the ascesis of some Eastern guru. The reason Christian monastic life, or priestly celibacy, is for life is because it is not in essence ascetic, but is a giving of yourself to someone else. We don’t enter marriage “for ten years, and then I’ll go back to full life”. You don’t have to believe yourself that Jesus Christ lives to understand this – merely to accept that we do.

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