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Interview: Archbishop Gänswein on Benedict, The Two Popes, and Prophecy

From left to right: Pope Francis, Archbishop Gänswein, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

On 25 June, Catholic News Agency published an article about an interview with Archbishop Georg Gänswein, which was originally conducted on 27 May 2016 by the German veteran journalist and EWTN Rome correspondent, Paul Badde. The German archbishop currently serves Pope Francis as Prefect of the Papal Household, but he has also maintained his duties as the secretary for the retired Pope Benedict XVI.

The full interview was first aired yesterday, 27 June, on EWTN, in German.

The significance of this interview lies in two areas. First, Gänswein corrects here the somewhat confusing comments he had recently made at the Gregorian University in Rome, pertaining to what he had described as an “enlarged Petrine ministry,” with Pope Francis serving as the “active” and Pope Benedict serving as the “contemplative” member. Secondly, in his new interview, Archbishop Gänswein makes some striking comments about certain prophetic understandings of the Church. He shows that he believes in some prophecies (such as the one by St. Malachy concerning the last pope) as well as certain seemingly supernatural phenomena — such as the significant lightning that struck St. Peter’s Dome on the very day of Pope Benedicts’s abdication.

In the following account, therefore, I shall present and translate parts of this German EWTN interview, in trying to deal with some of the more informal language and way of expression of an oral interview. As an introductory comment, I would like to add that, in reading it, the Catholic observer might notice not only what is actually said, but also what is not said. Especially striking to me are the words Gänswein uses to insist that Pope Benedict is at peace with his decision to abdicate. One might ask how Pope Benedict can be at peace with his decision even while he now has to watch how the life and thought of the Catholic Church are crumbling apart. Even the greatly learned French Oratorian priest, Father Louis Bouyer, himself a reformer at the time of the Second Vatican Council, once surprisingly wrote, shortly after the council, in his brief, incisive, and candid book, The Decomposition of Catholicism, how he had noticed many principles of disorder to have been planted and already spreading throughout the Church. And things have come a long way since that time.

Here now are selected parts of the Gänswein interview, in my own English translation, as taken from my own transcript of the EWTN interview, which was conducted in German.

First, Paul Badde asks Archbishop Gänswein what he thought about the lightning that struck St. Peter’s Dome on the day of Benedict’s abdication. Gänswein answers that he, at the time, only heard the noise but did not see the lightning itself. He adds:

I only saw it then later on in some photography, with my own eyes. […] The impression was that there was a reaction from above, a sign that one can put it into a connection with the morning [Benedict’s own announcement to resign], and that one has thus to put it into that connection. Thus, some form of a reaction. I did not then know exactly whether this was a reaction in the sense of a good reaction – or is this a “Watch-Out! Reaction.”

A+lightning+strikes+St+Peter's+dome+at+the+Vatican+on+February+11The German archbishop also describes how Pope Benedict, when he first showed him pictures of the lightning, asked whether this is a photo-montage. “Is this true or is this a photo-montage,” Benedict asked. Gänswein concludes: “In that way, no, truly, here nature has spoken, and prettly clearly so.” Paul Badde himself then comments on this same phenomenon with these words: “That was a thunder of the underworld.” Both Badde and Gänswein then proceed to reflect together on the fact that, when Pope Benedict – during his visit to Auschwitz in Poland (in the midst of a horrendous rain) – started to give his speech, the rain stopped and a most beautiful rainbow appeared. Gänswein saw this phenomenon also as a sign from heaven, and more clearly.

When asked about his own feelings at the moment of leaving the Papal Palace on 28 February 2013 in order to retire to Castel Gandolfo for a while, Gänswein admitted that he was in tears. To Badde’s question, as to why he later then defended the step taken by Pope Benedict to resign, the German archbishop responds, as follows:

In the meantime, three years have passed, and in these three years, many things have happened, much of reflection has taken place. Things happened from the outside, and since I see that Pope Benedict not only still lives with his own [decisive] step, but, also, that he is fully at peace with it and that he still – and perhaps even more so than ever before – is convinced that this was the right step. This has helped me, too, to let go inwardly of my resistance at the beginning and to simply accept what Pope Benedict – after much struggle, after much wrestling, and after really intense prayers – has recognized, realized and then also decided as being the right thing. [emphasis added]

Archbishop Gänswein tells Paul Badde that the moment of his 2005 papal election was the happiest moment in his life with Pope Benedict. He also admits that he knew – months before the public announcement of Benedict’s abdication – of his decision, and that he had to keep silent about this confidential matter.  When asked what was the saddest moment of his time with Pope Benedict, Gänswein responds:

Regret? It was a day when I myself was sick and in bed and when I saw the whole difficulty, connected with the name [Bishop] Williamson, so to speak rolling like an avalanche down upon the pope. It came, and one did not know where to go.  There was no escape. Because there was no exit. This was one of the hardest and also the saddest, but also the most painful days of my life as the secretary of Pope Benedict.

Gänswein agreed with Paul Badde’s comment that he, Gänswein, was paralyzed and that he could not intervene. The archbishop adds: “I could not, no, because it was just too late, and Pope Benedict has said much about this whole event – or about all these events – but he has also written this famous letter to the bishops, which is unique. I will not forget it. It was on 10 March 2010 –  there was this famous letter, and there he said what needed to be said, and I absolutely agree with it.

Paul Badde then proceeds to ask Gänswein about the power of prayers and whether it was palpable that, after his own abdication, Pope Benedict did not receive any more all these prayers from the Holy Masses offered worldwide and from the prayers of the individual faithful. The secretary of Benedict answers:

Yes, in this question, there is a little detour. I do not know whether, indeed – when you spoke about the prayers being removed – I do not know whether they really were taken away at one blow. Of course, the official prayers went with the election of Pope Francis over to him, correctly – that is how it should be and that is how it was with John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I only can say that, because of the many letters and the many contacts, the amount of prayers – the promises of prayers – are enormous and, due to the letters that I see, I would even say they [these prayers] have increased.

When asked to confirm that the prayers have increased, Gänswein confirms it and continues: “Yes, and I am convinced that Pope Benedict, when it comes to prayers, has – with certainly – not been forgotten and that unbelievably many people still pray for him.”

Badde reports in his interview that he knows of cardinals in the Vatican “who are still shocked that the Catholic Church has right now two living successors of Peter.” He continues: “You yourself have recently spoken about an enlargement of the Petrine ministry, of an exponentiation, I believe. Could you explain this a little more?”

Gänswein answers, as follows:

Yes, you refer here to the book presentation of an Italian professor, Roberto Regoli, who has written a book about the first evaluation of the pontificate [of Pope Benedict]. He is professor at the Gregorian University and that is where the book was presented, as well. I was one of the two persons who presented it, and indeed, I spoke about a exponentiated [enlarged] pontificate. It is clear – to say it clearly, because I have seen in some of the reactions how people insinuated things that I never said. Of course: Pope Francis is the lawfully elected and lawful pope. That is to say, there are not two popes – the one lawful, the other unlawful, that is simply not correct. And I simply said – that is also what Pope Benedict said – that he, after all, is still present with his prayers, with his sacrifices, in the “Recinto” of Saint Peter [within the walls and precincts of the Vatican], and that, through these prayers, through these sacrifices, there shall come forth spiritual fruit for his successors and for the Church. That is what I meant to say, and now we have had for three years two popes and I have the impression that the reality that I perceive is covered by what I have said.

Paul Badde then sums up how he understands what Archbishop Gänswein tries to say:

If I understand you aright, he [Benedict] remained in the office, but in the contemplative part, without having any authority to decide. Thus we have – as you said – now an active and a contemplative part which form together an enlargement of the Munus Petrinum [primacy and office of Peter]?

Gänswein responds:

That is what I have said, indeed, that – if one wishes to specify it – it is very clear, the Plena Potestas, the Plenitudo Potestatis [full power, incarnate authority] is in the hands of Pope Francis. He is the man who has right now the succession of Peter. And then there are no difficulties left, as I also have said it. These two are also not in a competitive relationship. That is where one has to make use of common sense, as well as the Faith and a little bit of theology. Then one does not have at all difficulties to understand properly [sic] what I have said.

When the journalist asks Gänswein, whether he could imagine that “there would be two papa emeriti [retired popes], two retired popes in the gardens, or three, or an office of four,” Gänswein’s answer is:

Indeed, because Pope Benedict has made this step, there has been now a door opened. Whether other popes will go through this open door – there, I am not a prophet. But, I personally have no difficulties to consider this to be realistic. [emphasis added]

Badde then humorously adds that one might thus have to make some space free for Pope Francis, to which Gänswein adds, in a serious tone: “Whether this is localiter [with regard to the local place] at the same place, or at another one, that is, then essentially secondary or tertiary.” Paul Badde also informs us that Archbishop Gänswein’s own father had been a blacksmith and that he was “a tree of a man,” in Gänswein’s own words. Badde then asks the archbishop how he would describe Pope Benedict, who himself was not a “tree of a man.” Gänswein proceeds to praise Pope Benedict for his “unbelievable intellectual presence, combined with a disarming mildness” for which he has become Gänswein’s enduring model and great person of reference. (I know from someone who was at a private audience at the time with Pope Benedict how caring and attentive Archbishop Gänswein acted toward his superior, Pope Benedict. – MH)

Later on, he also says he would sum up Benedict’s papacy with the word Veritas. He says: “It is about the fact that truth became man in Christ, that is for him [Benedict] the great theme of his life which reappeared again and again throughout  his life in different variations and in different forms.” Gänswein adds that Benedict’s pontificate had “strengthened the Church in her foundations,” concluding with the words: “That will remain.”

With regard to the famous “secret dossier” which Pope Benedict had handed over to Pope Francis when they first met at Castel Gandolfo at the beginning of Francis’ pontificate, Gänswein indicates that it did not mainly deal with the topic of the reform of the Curia. He says, rather, that it dealt with the Vatileaks and its manifold causes. Three cardinals had worked on it and then presented a dossier to Pope Benedict, “with all the documents included” which then was passed on by Benedict to Francis, on 23 March 2013. As to the proposed curial reforms, Gänswein himself seems to be doubtful as to whether the current depiction of the Curia as being itself in a “disastrous situation” is at all realistic, For, he himself thought that those critics do not themselves know the Curia well, nor even from the inside. Gänswein thus plays down its problems and indicates that Pope Francis’ reform has not changed very much at all so far.

To sum up the last three topics of the interview: Archbishop Gänswein agrees with Paul Badde that the prophecy of St. Malachy, according to which Pope Francis is apparently to be the last pope, is quite probable. He admits that, by studying this question, also in relation to historical facts, “I get a little bit afraid.” Gänswein even describes this prophecy as a “wake-up call.” He also admits that he still misses seeing the lights in the papal apartment at night when he walks by on St. Peter’s square. When he sees the darkness in the upper floors, “I have a heavy heart,” Gänswein admits. “I had to get used to it, but do not know whether I ever will get used to it,” he adds.

When speaking about his possible dreams – for he had once had the dream of actually becoming a Carthusian monk – for his own life now, Gänswein admits that there are few dreams left. However, he says, he would like to get more of the “smell of the sheep” by doing more pastoral work, which is, right now, not possible. “Therefore, I try to adapt and to pass on the smell which is spreading here [in the Vatican].”

Somewhat surprisingly, Pope Francis himself – during his own very recent papal trip to Armenia – made his own corrective comments concerning the debate of the “two popes.” His words, as reported by the Austrian Catholic website (and now also available in the English transcript from CNA) seem to be in complete accordance with Archbishop Gänswein’s own words to Paul Badde in his recent interview. On his flight back to Rome on 26 June, Pope Francis said: “He [Pope Benedict] is the retired pope. I have thanked Pope Benedict publicly for that, inasmuch as he has opened the door for retired popes. […] In the future, there can be perhaps two or three, but they are retired.” Pope Francis said these words with direct reference to a question put to him by a journalist who referred to Archbishop Gänswein’s own words about the two popes and the allegedly “enlarged” Petrine Office. Francis also said: “I have not read these explanations. Benedict XVI is the retired pope. He said it on that 11 February [2013] that he will retire from his office on the following 28 February. […] Benedict is in the monastery and prays.” Later on, Francis added: “He is for me the retired pope, a wise grandfather. He is the man who covers my shoulders and my back with his prayers.” Francis then reminded the journalists of the fact that Benedict had promised “unconditional obedience to his successor.” [emphasis added] Francis added: “And he did it!” Francis went on:

Then, I heard – I do not know whether it is true – rumors about some who supposedly went to him [Benedict] in order to complain about the new pope, and he threw them out of his house in the Bavarian style. If this is not true, it is well invented, because he is a man who is loyal to his word, an upright man. […] I will say [at the upcoming 65th anniversary of his priesthood] something about this great man of prayers and of courage, who is the retired pope and not the ‘second pope’, and he is one who is loyal to his word and who is very wise.

At one point, Francis made his view on the matter clear: “there is one single Pope” he said, “and the other… maybe they will be like the bishops emeriti, I’m not saying many but possibly there could be two or three. They will be emeriti… They are emeriti.”

21 thoughts on “Interview: Archbishop Gänswein on Benedict, The Two Popes, and Prophecy”

  1. ‘“Therefore, I try to adapt and to pass on the smell which is spreading here [in the Vatican].”’

    –how absolutely true. I can smell it from here.

    ‘Francis then reminded the journalists of the fact that Benedict had promised “unconditional obedience to his successor.” [emphasis added]Francis added: “And he did it!”’

    ‘I will say [at the upcoming 65th anniversary of his priesthood]something about this great man of prayers and of courage, who is the retired pope and not the ‘second pope’, and he is one who is loyal to his word and who is very wise.’

    –Maybe it is just me, but this sounds like, “Benedict promised unconditional obedience (if he knew what was good for him) and I have to say he has been loyal, and therefore very wise (hence, he is still alive and whatever someone may have threatened him with has not come to pass).”

    Is it just me?

  2. “Therefore, I try to adapt and to pass on the smell which is spreading here [in the Vatican].”

    Is that what that stench is?

  3. Looks like someone believes the St Malachy prophecy even though I was rebuked on this blog when I brought it up last week. That’s funny …cue Petrus Romanus lol

  4. How could Benedict XVl be at full peace with his decision?
    Of course he will such things in public, to even close advisors; but this makes little sense.
    Does he not see what is going on within the Church through this Pope, and its alarming effects for priests, bishops, laity…..the world?

    If Benedict XVl is truly “at peace” with his decision to resign than I must believe that he was given direction to do so from “above”, or he is not being honest, lying, which is sinful regardless of the intent to promote unity within the Church.

    I just read on Fr.Z’s blog, Benedict’s address on his anniversary.

    There is ” an elephant in the room”. And everyone runs for cover!

  5. Regret? It was a day when I myself was sick and in bed and when I saw the whole difficulty, connected with the name [Bishop] Williamson, so to speak rolling like an avalanche down upon the pope. It came, and one did not know where to go. There was no escape. Because there was no exit. This was one of the hardest and also the saddest, but also the most painful days of my life as the secretary of Pope Benedict.

    Sorry,that was cowardice on the part of the Pope; Fear of the Jews is ever ancient ever new.

    What Williamson does or does not believe about the war crimes of the nazis is IMMATERIAL vis a vis catholicism.


    • There is more here. What Williamson believes about the current state of Rome is more audacious than his holocaust denial. Francis seems to confirm it more and more everyday.

  6. If I understand you aright, he [Benedict] remained in the office, but in the contemplative part, without having any authority to decide. Thus we have – as you said – now an active and a contemplative part which form together an enlargement of the Munus Petrinum [primacy and office of Peter]?

    Gänswein responds:

    That is what I have said, indeed,

    So what if he said it? It is a contradiction that violates the principle of non-contradiction.

    One can NOT abdicate the Papacy AND retain part of it.

    There is only one SUPREME Pontiff. There is not one Pope and a half/pope walking around wearing white

    For crying out loud, the is the same sort of modernistic/new theological crap that we have had them try and cram down our throats for Fiddy years.

    Sorry, it is flat out B.S. and y’all ought to be ashamed continuing to try and sell this crap to real Catholics but its is just another example of how Ratzinger was a faux trad.

  7. As Louie Verrichio pointed out, Ganswein doesn’t actually answer the question we are asking, and instead answers the question we did not.

    Nobody doubts that Pope Francis is fully in command for all intent and purposes.

    What we want to know is this business about somehow expanding the Papacy such that we now have something different that wasn’t there before. About Benedict XVI somehow retaining some indelible mark of the Papacy that remains with him such that he retains the title of Pope, though emeritus, and then some contemplative aspect, which is entirely novel and a new teaching.

    The question is what does Ganswein mean? What did Benedict mean? And why are they continuing to distinguish and emphasize this novelty when we ought to just be treating Benedict as just another retired Cardinal? What does his retention of Papal contemplativeness serve? Are we now to understand that aspects of the grace bestowed by Papal Coronation can now be preserved in one who leaves the office? Why doesn’t Ganswein answer that question but wave his hands to some understanding of theology or something as if we’re somehow supposed to go out searching ourselves or allowing it to mean what we want it to mean, when Mr. Cardinal Secretary himself here can’t even be bothered to tell us?

  8. “…indeed, I spoke about a exponentiated [enlarged] pontificate…”

    Abp. Ganswein is a Canon lawyer and has worked in the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith under the then Cardinal Ratzinger. Since he is the one person who works under the two popes, Abp. Ganswein, bar none, can tell us about the relationship between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict.

    It is this “exponentiated pontificate” concept that disturbs faithful Catholics.

    Ganswein in his speech even backed it up with facts: Benedict is still addressed as “His Holiness,” has not reverted to his original name of Joseph Ratzinger, is still wearing the Papal White, and still lives within the confines of the Vatican.

    Ganswein also said that while the petrine ministry remains as one, it has – what? – divided its office into two, i.e., active and contemplative parts? I wish the EWTN interviewer had explored with hard questions this theory of Abp. Ganswein.

    As Catholics, we are all called to pray for the pope, to do the contemplative part, but we are not all pope emeriti. When St. Celestine resigned the papacy, he went back to his former name, to his former hermit’s habit and to his former cell away from the Vatican. Yet we can be sure Celestine himself prayed for his successor [or he can’t be a saint.] Celestine prayed not in the context of an “expanded petrine ministry” but as a hermit.

    If Pope Emeritus Benedict has a new theology of the petrine ministry, it should be submitted to the CDF, since he no longer is its prefect.

    By the way, Cardinal Muller, current prefect of CDF, in an earlier comment [not related to Abp. Ganswein’s thesis] said: “The teaching on the papacy as a Divine institution cannot be relativized by anybody – this would mean to want to correct God Himself.”

    More than the St. Malachy prophecy about the popes, I wished the interviewer had mentioned Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s “vision of the relationship between two popes,” and Melanie Calvat’s announced La Salette’s secret of “two shaky doubtful popes.”

    Regarding the famous photograph of lightning striking St. Peter’s basilica, the Agence France Presse photographer Filippo Monteforte, who took the picture, said that there were actually two lightning strikes that occurred that rainy evening, but he failed to shoot the first one.

    Two lightning strikes [two popes?] but only one strike was photographed for posterity.

    • If Pope Emeritus Benedict has a new theology of the petrine ministry, it should be submitted to the CDF, since he no longer is its prefect.

      There were 264 Popes prior to him and not one of them – NOT ONE – ever came up with such a novelty and his novelty has to be submitted to the CDF why?

      It is an error. Period. He had no authority to create an office different than the one Divinely established by Jesus Christ and he has changed nothing. He abdicated the Papacy and he did not retain any of it.

      Lord have mercy, the papolatry is palpable

      For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

      The ex-pope wanted to change the office of the Papacy that he did not create but that was created by Jesus Christ?

      The arrogance is astonishing and it explains a lot about his papacy

        • Does a mathematician have to consult with the President of MIT to discover if 2+2=5?

          He can say whatever he wants, he can make all manner of claims but he never had the authority to change the office of the Papacy. He didn’t create the office, Jesus did.

          For crying out loud..why are so many eager to surrender to the latest novelty?

      • “If the Pope should become neglectful of his own salvation, and of that of other men, and so lost to all good that he draw down with himself innumerable people by heaps into hell, and plunge them with himself into eternal torments, yet no mortal may presume to reprehend him, forasmuch as he is judge of all, and is judged of no one.”

  9. Whoa! Bishop Williamson? This is the guy who openly speaks of ” a false V2 church” . Did BXVI step down to usher in officially this New church? At this point i’m waiting for a mask to be pulled off like some scooby-do episode. Doik! Am i supposef to become a premium subsriber with Voris for reperation for his decade of sodomy? D..d..d.. diabolical d..d..disorientation much?

  10. “In that way, no, truly, here nature has spoken, and prettly clearly so.”
    It”s not mother nature speaking there Bishop, it’s God.

    At the time I remember several news publications tried to say “oh that wasn’t a recent photo, that was from another times” nothing but lies all the way around.

  11. Oh there’s a smell at the Vatican no doubt, surprised hip waders aren’t needed to walk into the bs there nowadays.


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