Georg Gänswein

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Georg Gänswein
Titular Archbishop of Urbs Salvia
Prefect of the Papal Household
Exsequien Joachim Meisner-7798.jpg
Archbishop Gänswein in 2017
ChurchCatholic Church
SeeUrbs Salvia (titular)
Appointed7 December 2012
Installed6 January 2013
PredecessorJames Michael Harvey
Other post(s)Personal secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Ordination31 May 1984
by Archbishop Oskar Saier
Consecration6 January 2013
by Pope Benedict XVI
Personal details
Georg Gänswein

(1956-07-30) 30 July 1956 (age 66)
DenominationRoman Catholic
ResidenceVatican City State
Alma materLudwig Maximilian University of Munich
MottoLatin: Testimonium perhibere veritati (To bear witness to the truth), John 18:37
Coat of armsGeorg Gänswein's coat of arms
Styles of
Georg Gänswein
Coat of arms of Georg Gänswein (With the arms of Pope Francis).svg
Reference styleThe Most Reverend
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Religious styleArchbishop
Ordination history of
Georg Gänswein
Diaconal ordination
Date19 December 1982
Priestly ordination
Ordained byOskar Saier (Freiburg)
Date31 May 1984
Episcopal consecration
Principal consecratorPope Benedict XVI
Co-consecratorsTarcisio Card. Bertone SDB (Card. Sec. of State)
Zenon Card. Grocholewski (Pref. Cong. Inst. Cath.)
Date6 January 2013
PlaceSaint Peter's Basilica

Georg Gänswein (pronounced [ˈɡeːɔʁk ˈɡɛnsvaɪn]; born 30 July 1956) is a German prelate of the Catholic Church, who serves as Prefect of the Papal household, and personal secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He is a professor of canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. He has held the titular position of Archbishop of Urbs Salvia since 2012.

Gänswein, who was born in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, is fluent in both speaking and writing Italian, Spanish, German and Latin.

Early years[edit]

Gänswein was born in Riedern am Wald, Waldshut, Baden-Württemberg, a village in the Black Forest and part of Ühlingen-Birkendorf municipality in Germany, as the eldest son of Albert Gänswein, a blacksmith, and his wife Gertrud. He has two brothers and two sisters.[1]

Gänswein has said that he decided to become a priest in 1974 when he was 18. He began his seminary training in 1976 and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Freiburg on 31 May 1984.[2][a] He spent the next two years in the Black Forest as a curate (assistant priest).

He received his J.C.D. degree from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in 1993, writing his dissertation about Ecclesiology according to the Second Vatican Council. He later said: "After half a year I was so fed up I said to myself, now I'm going to the archbishop and ask him to take me back into the diocese because I can't stand it anymore.... I'd always studied gladly and easily, but studying Canon Law I felt to be as dry as work in a quarry where there's no beer — you die of dryness."[5]

In January 2007, Italian artist and fashion designer Donatella Versace used Gänswein as the artistic inspiration for her Fall 2007 "Clergyman Collection", thereby boosting popular recognition of Gänswein's nickname, "Gorgeous George" (Italian: Bel Giorgio).[6] In January 2013, Gänswein's photo, without his consent, appeared on the cover of the Italian version of Vanity Fair magazine.[7]

Roman Curia[edit]

Gänswein entered the Roman Curia as an official of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 1995. He joined the staff of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1996 and became professor of canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II gave him the title Chaplain of His Holiness. He replaced Josef Clemens as Ratzinger's personal secretary in 2003, when Clemens became secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. When Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005, Gänswein was appointed Principal Private Secretary to His Holiness.[2] A year later Pope Benedict XVI gave him the title Prelate of His Holiness.

In an interview in July 2006, he described the Pope's typical day: "The Pope's day begins with Mass at 7am, followed by morning prayer and a period of contemplation. Afterwards we eat breakfast together, and my day then begins with sorting through the correspondence, which arrives in considerable quantity." He said that he accompanied Benedict to morning audiences, followed by lunch together, a "short walk," and a rest, after which he presents him with documents which require his attention.[8]

In 2007 he was mentioned as a possible candidate for archbishop of Archdiocese of Munich and Freising in 2007. In August 2013 he said he did not see himself returning to Germany as an archbishop, that he was focused on Rome and he did not expect that to change.[9]

In his private life, Gänswein plays tennis, skis, and flies airplanes.

Prefect of the Pontifical Household[edit]

On 7 December 2012, Gänswein was appointed Prefect of the Pontifical Household, replacing Cardinal James Michael Harvey, and raised to the rank of archbishop with the titular see of Urbs Salvia.[10] In this position Gänswein arranged papal audiences both public and private, regardless of their size or rank of visitors, and handled the logistics for most large Vatican events and ceremonies as well as the pope's travels both in Rome and Italy. He was consecrated bishop on 6 January 2013 by Pope Benedict.[11]

Resignation of Benedict XVI[edit]

Pope Benedict announced on 11 February 2013 that he was resigning on 28 February. Gänswein moved with the Pope emeritus to Castel Gandolfo then while continuing in his role as head of the Pontifical Household.[12]

Msgr Gänswein greeting Malteser International helpers in 2006

Gänswein said he had known about the Pope's plan to resign for "quite some time beforehand" and had tried to change his mind, but "Pope Benedict had reached a decision. He was not to be shaken", he said.[13] He said the news felt like "an amputation" and that "Accepting and coming to terms with my new role is painful". He resented that the press welcomed Pope Francis’ decision not to live in the papal apartments and said that "Benedict didn’t live in the papal apartments for egotistical reasons – he was also very modest". After several months working for Francis he said "At the beginning of each day, I find myself once again waiting to see what will be different today". Then in the evening after 9 pm he handles Benedict's affairs and correspondence.[14]

On the first anniversary of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Gänswein said that "I am certain, indeed convinced, that history will offer a judgment that will be different than what one often read in the last years of his pontificate because the sources are clear and clarity springs from them."[15] In 2016 he said that "Vatileaks" or other issues had "little or nothing" to do with Benedict's resignation. Gänswein said that Francis and Benedict are not two popes "in competition" with one another, but represent one "expanded" Petrine Office with an "active" member and a "contemplative" one. He said that Benedict had not abandoned the papacy like Pope Celestine V in the 13th century but rather sought to continue his in a more appropriate way given his frailty and that "Therefore, from 11 February 2013, the papal ministry is not the same as before. It is and remains the foundation of the Catholic Church; and yet it is a foundation that Benedict XVI has profoundly and lastingly transformed by his exceptional pontificate."[16]

Relationship between Benedict and Francis[edit]

In January 2015 Gänswein denied a rumour that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had met the previous autumn with conservative cardinals concerned that the Synod of Bishops on the Family might allow civilly remarried Catholics access to the Eucharist. He called it "pure invention". He said Francis' renewed emphasis on pastoral care meant no change in doctrine and said: "The pope is the first guarantor and keeper of the doctrine of the Church and, at the same time, the first shepherd, the first pastor."[17]

In July 2017, some commentators interpreted a statement by Benedict as criticism of Francis. Gänswein called them "stupid people" and said they engaged in "fantasy". He said that "The emeritus pope was deliberately exploited" and that "They want to exploit him. But all this will be useless."[18]

In 2019 he said a claim put forward by a Brazilian synod father that Benedict XVI revised canon law in 2009 to allow the ordination of women deacons is “totally absurd and wrong.” Archbishop Gänswein said he had not spoken to the Pope Emeritus about the matter and his comments “come only from me.” His remarks come after Bishop Evaristo Pascoal Spengler of Marajó, Brazil, told reporters that the synod had opened a path to the ordination of women deacons due to a 2009 decree.[19]

Dispute with Cardinal Sarah[edit]

In January 2020, Gänswein asked Cardinal Robert Sarah to have his publishers remove Pope Benedict's name as co-author with Sarah of a book about priestly celibacy, and to remove Benedict's name as author of the book's introduction and conclusions. He said Benedict had not participated in the writing nor authorized the use of his name. He characterized the problem as "a question of misunderstanding, without casting doubt on the good faith of Cardinal Sarah".[20] Sarah had already denied that characterization of Benedict's role,[20] but then asked his publishers to make changes in how Benedict's participation was represented, though his U.S. publisher refused to make any adjustment.[21]

Following his dispute with Sarah, Gänswein ceased to perform the public functions of his position as prefect of the papal household. He no longer appeared alongside Pope Francis at the pope's weekly audiences, nor greeted heads of state and the pope's other most important visitors. His title did not change. The Holy See Press Office said Gänswein's role reflected a "redistribution of the various commitments and duties" of papal household staff.[22]


Election of Pope Francis[edit]

Archbishop Gänswein escorts President Obama to an audience with Pope Francis

In March 2014 he said he was shocked by the election of Pope Francis. Asked on ZDF on 13 March whether the election of Pope Francis at the conclave the previous year had surprised him, Archbishop Gänswein said, “Well, yes, as I had favoured other candidates – I was wrong – but then so were other people.” He went on to say that at the moment the Pope is the darling of the media “but that won’t always be the case”. The Pope is not “everybody’s darling”, he said.[23]

2014 Extraordinary General Synod[edit]

Archbishop Gänswein said that marriage cannot be dissolved and that "starting a new union contradicts what the Lord has indicated". He made the remarks in an interview with Chi magazine, excerpts of which were released in advance on the fringes of a synod of bishops on the family that opened 6 October 2014 in the Vatican. Asked about the question of possibly allowing divorced people to take communion, Gänswein said "this is a very delicate question, at stake is the sacramental matrimony that according to Catholic doctrine cannot be dissolved, just like the love of God for man" "As far as I can see Pope Francis is following the line of his predecessors whose teaching on matrimony is very clear".[24]

Curial reform[edit]

Gänswein said: “I personally can see no significant reason which would necessitate a reform of the Curia at the moment. One or two changes have been made but that is part of the normal run of things. To speak of ‘Curial reform’ is, if I may so, somewhat of an exaggeration.” Asked whether the Vatican and the church in general are polarised at the moment, he said "There is no polarisation as far as I can see and I haven’t experienced any. Certain measures here and there have been criticised and if the criticism is justified, that can surely benefit the general climate."[25]

In 2017, asked about the dismissal of Cardinal Gerhard Müller from his post as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gänswein said: "I don't want to comment on a papal staff decision. But when I heard about it I was really most upset. He is, after all, a close personal friend."[26]



Coat of arms of Georg Gänswein
Coat of arms of Georg Gänswein (With the arms of Pope Francis).svg
As a member of the Papal Household, Gänswein's arms include those of the reigning pope on the left. The coat of arms was designed and adopted when he was consecrated as Bishop on 6 January 2013 and modified when Francis succeeded Benedict in March 2013.
6 January 2013
The left side is the coat of arms of Pope Francis. The right side includes a 7-pointed star above the draconian serpent.
(To bear witness to the truth, John 18:37)
The 7-pointed star represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. The draconian serpent represents the Devil being slain by Saint George.
Previous versions
Coat of arms during the papacy of Benedict XVI


  1. ^ Gänswein has denied the claim—made without attribution in the French weekly L'Express in 2009—that he attended the International Seminary of Saint Pius X in Switzerland.[3] He said: "I never had or have currently any contact with Ecône or its adherents. Whoever says that simply wants to damage me." ("Ich hatte nie und habe auch gegenwärtig keinerlei Kontakte mit Ecône oder mit Anhängern von Ecône. Wer das behauptet, will mir schlichtweg schaden.")[4][page needed]


  1. ^ "Pope appoints Gäenswein Prefect of Pontifical Household and archbishop". Vatican Insider - La Stampa. 7 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Pope appoints Gäenswein Prefect of Pontifical Household and archbishop". La Stampa. 7 December 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  3. ^ "Vatican, les clefs d'une crise". L'Express (in French). 12 February 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  4. ^ Oschwald, Hanspeter (2010). Im Namen des Heiligen Vaters: Wie fundamentalistische Mächte den Vatikan steuern. Munich: Heyne. ISBN 9783641038663.
  5. ^ "Library: Interview with Msgr. Gaenswein, Secretary to Pope Benedict XVI". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 8 July 2017. Originally published in Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazin on 26 July 2007.
  6. ^ Moore, Malcolm (16 January 2007). "Gorgeous Georg's priestly chic inspires a new Versace show". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  7. ^ "Gorgeous Georg: Pope's Private Secretary Becomes Vanity Fair Cover Boy". Time. 18 January 2013.
  8. ^ Owen, Richard (16 January 2007). "Meet the inspiration for the latest Versace look - the Pope's secretary". The Times. London. Retrieved 19 March 2008.
  9. ^ "Georg Gänswein hat keine Karrierepläne in Deutschland". Badische Zeitung (in German). 9 August 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  10. ^ "Pope Names Personal Secretary as Prefect of the Pontifical Household". Zenit. 7 December 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Pope Calls on Newly Ordained Bishops to 'Be Courageous'". Zenit. 7 January 2017. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  12. ^ Uebbing, David (14 February 2013). "Archbishop Ganswein plans to remain prefect of Papal Household". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  13. ^ "The Tablet - Gänswein 'tried to stop Benedict resigning'". Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  14. ^ Pongratz-Lippitt, Christa (10 December 2013). "Gänswein speaks of 'pain' of no longer being Pope's right-hand man". The Tablet. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  15. ^ "Reuters Q&A with Archbishop Georg Gänswein in English and Italian". Reuters. 9 February 2014. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014.
  16. ^ Pentin, Edward (23 May 2016). "Archbishop Gänswein: Benedict XVI Sees Resignation as Expanding Petrine Ministry". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  17. ^ San Martín, Inés (22 January 2015). "Benedict XVI aide denies rift with Francis". CRUX. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  18. ^ San Martín, Inés (19 July 2017). "Benedict aide: It's a 'fantasy' and 'stupid' to use him against Francis". CRUX. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Archbishop Gaenswein: Claim Benedict XVI Opened Path for Women Deacons 'Totally Absurd'". National Catholic Register.
  20. ^ a b O'Connell, Gerard (14 January 2020). "Benedict XVI has asked Cardinal Sarah to have his name removed from the book on priestly celibacy". America. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  21. ^ Ivereigh, Austen. "A Disorderly Institution". Commonweal Magazine. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  22. ^ McElwee, Joshua J. (5 February 2020). "Vatican confirms 'redistribution' of duties for Archbishop Gänswein". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  23. ^ Pongratz-Lippitt, Christa (19 March 2014). "Head of papal household says he did not favour election of Francis". The Tablet. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  24. ^ Redazione ANSA (7 October 2014). "Marriage 'indissoluble", Msgr Gänswein - English". Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  25. ^ Pongratz-Lippitt, Christa (22 April 2015). "Reform of the Curia is unnecessary, says Archbishop Gänswein". The Tablet. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  26. ^ -, The Tablet-w. "Müller criticises Francis papacy for lacking theological rigour, and hints at comeback". The Tablet.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Personal Papal Secretary
19 April 2005 – 28 February 2013
Succeeded by
Preceded by — TITULAR —
Archbishop of Urbs Salvia (pro hac vice)
7 December 2012 – present
Preceded by Prefect of the Pontifical Household
7 December 2012 – present