Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Mickens on Gänswein and the End of the “Shadow Pontificate”

Robert Mickens — a man notorious for his dislike of Pope Benedict XVI, so keep that in mind going in — has a fascinating piece (paywall) at La Croix about the Gänswein sidelining.

Mickens says that Francis was stuck with Gänswein by Benedict, who didn’t see Bergoglio coming, and had, just before his abdication, elevated his personal secretary to the position of papal prefect with the thought of creating “seamless transition and continuity” between the old and new pontificates.

“The top candidates” for the papacy, Mickens writes, “were believed to be Angelo Scola of Italy, Marc Ouellet of Quebec, Odilo Scherer of Brazil, Peter Erdöof Hungary or, possibly, Christoph Schönborn of Austria.”

But they got Bergoglio instead.

And now, says Mickens, citing the assessment of La Stampa Vatican journalist Francesco Peloso, this little fiasco with Gänswein’s duties being “redistributed” look like a “purge,” and the Holy See Press Office’s explanation like something from the “golden years of the Kremlin.”

Mickens offers some history on the situation:

On Dec. 7, just 75 days before stunning the world with the announcement of his resignation, Benedict appointed his personal secretary, Monsignor George Gänswein, then 56, as prefect of the Papal Household.

The pope consecrated him titular Archbishop of Urbisaglia a month later on the Feast of the Epiphany.

All the pieces were now in place.

Benedict had already begun refurbishing a building in the Vatican Gardens that had been used the previous two decades as a nunnery.

John Paul II had established the Mater Ecclessiae Monastery in the 1990s to be occupied by a different community of contemplative nuns every five years.

When the last group completed its term in 2012, Benedict decided he’d make the monastery his retirement home.

He would live there with his private secretary and a small group of consecrated women who would serve as his staff.

There was nothing terribly unusual about the arrangement except for one thing – Gänswein would be living with the retired pope while running the household (being the gatekeeper) of the current pope.

Seamless transition and continuity from one pontificate to another was guaranteed.

But then Francis got elected. It would have been difficult for him to replace Gänswein, being that the German had been in the post only a few months.

Instead, the new pope decided to live at the Santa Marta Residence where the cardinals lodged during the conclave.

The old guard from Benedict’s pontificate was dumbfounded.
And the now-retired pope’s well-laid plans came to nothing.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Gänswein looked out of place and sullen in the early days and weeks of the papal transition. He was, in effect, the prefect of an empty household.

Mickens argues that Gänswein never had any real power with the new pope, that his attempts to schedule things without consulting with Francis were met with refusals, and that he eventually took the hint that Francis was going to be his own man and do things his own way.

Now, it seems, after six years, Francis has finally figured out how to get rid of him. And along with him, Mickens opines, quite possibley the “unwritten (and unspoken) non-aggression treaty” between the two popes.

1 thought on “Mickens on Gänswein and the End of the “Shadow Pontificate””

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...