Earlier today, Archbishop Georg Gänswein — Prefect of the Papal Household and private secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — gave an interview on German radio. Among the topics discussed were the discipline of priestly celibacy and the issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. I have agreed to publish his thoughts because they are newsworthy, especially on the day that the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation was expected to be signed, if not released.
That said, I struggle to understand the basis for his confidence that in practice, orthodoxy will prevail in these matters. In this interview, as he has done previously, Gänswein defends Francis, insisting that he is a man of tradition who will uphold the teaching of his predecessors. (We have documented extensively in these pages that the preponderance of evidence points to the contrary.)
Also of note is that these statements come directly on the heels of a rare break in Pope Benedict’s own customary silence after an interview with him (originally conducted in October) was released for the first time this week by Avvenire, the paper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. In that interview, the Pope Emeritus was understood by many to reaffirm the dogma of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, which would stand in stark contrast to the present papacy, which downplays the need for evangelization. Not everyone was so convinced that this was Pope Benedict’s message, however, and some have commented that his take on the matter may in fact only add to the confusion.
In the interview, Benedict, too, affirms Francis:
“Pope Francis is totally in accord with this line: his pastoral practice expresses itself precisely through the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy. It is mercy that moves us towards God, while justice frightens us before him.”
“In my view,” continued Pope Benedict, “this sets in relief the fact that, beneath the veneer of confidence in himself and [human] justice, contemporary man hides a deep knowledge of his injuries and his unworthiness before God: he is waiting for mercy,” said Pope Benedict.
It is true that Francis speaks of God’s mercy. Often. Always. What he rarely (if ever) speaks of is the need for conversion and repentance, which must come before God’s mercy is received. It is, I believe, this fundamental misapprehension of true mercy that leads souls into grave danger; indeed, a false concept of “mercy” is precisely the pretense under which the notion of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried has been pushed by Cardinal Kasper (and his allies) since his keynote at the consistory in February, 2014.
Without further prelude, we present the comments of Archbishop Gänswein, courtesy of Dr. Maike Hickson, who provides the translation and some additional commentary.
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Pope Emeritus Benedict’s Private Secretary Speaks on Priestly Celibacy and “Remarried” Divorcees
Dr. Maike Hickson
The German Radio station Deutsche Welle has just published a twenty-minute-long interview with Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the private secretary of Pope Benedict XVI and Prefect of the Papal Household.
In this interview, Archbishop Gänswein made two important statements which might be seen as an attempt to re-affirm and defend priestly celibacy and the indissolubility of marriage. Since these statements have been published on the same day when Pope Francis is apparently to sign his Apostolic Exhortation concerning marriage and the family, Gänswein’s word may well have a special weight. His interview also deals, in part, with the question of Pope Francis’ own reforms.
When asked about the question of celibacy, Gänswein says: “I do not know whether this theme [of celibacy] moves so many people now.” To live in celibacy, in his eyes, “is just as difficult as leading a good marriage and having a good family.” He points out that there are also people outside of Christianity who live in celibacy. Gänswein says that the reigning pontiff is strongly influenced by St. Ignatius, that he is a “Jesuit of the Old School.” In his eyes, celibacy is for Pope Francis himself “not an obstacle – it is a challenge, but also a source of strength.” And the German prelate then also says:
I do not believe that under Pope Francis, there will now be a change in this question … of celibacy.
A similarily clear statement comes from him after he was asked about the question of the “remarried” divorcees and whether they will be admitted to the Sacraments. Gänswein said:
I am convinced that he [Pope Francis] will continue on the path of his predecessors – that is to say, also according to the Church’s Magisterium – and that there will also be found, accordingly, such statements in his own magisterial writing.
Archbishop Gänswein also speaks highly of Pope Francis, praising his closeness to the people and his attentiveness to the poor. He says that from his own experience within the Curia, there is not any resistance against the pope, even though some people “have difficulties with the rapidity and the intensity” of the pope’s actions.
With regard to Germany, the German archbishop sees a grave crisis of Faith, saying that “the roots of the Faith,” appear weakened and that there might be a defectiveness (“Leerstellen”) in the proclamation of the Faith by the very teachers of the Faith themselves.
It is difficult to say – and only time will show – whether the recently published Avvenire interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as well as this interview with Archbishop Gänswein, are in fact intentional (if gentle) attempts at clarifying and counterpointing some of the likely upcoming reforms of Pope Francis.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.