The Prefect of the Papal Household and personal secretary to Pope Benedict, Georg Gänswein, has been relieved of his duties with Pope Francis to care for the deteriorating Pope Emeritus, according to a media report.

Driving the news

Speculation reached fever pitch February 5 when German media reported that Pope Francis had ‘fired’ Gänswein or placed him on leave from his key position in the papal court.

That was after Gänswein’s role in the fiasco surrounding Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book defending priestly celibacy – Des profondeurs de nos cœurs (“From the Depths of Our Hearts”) – but to which Sarah also put Benedict’s name.

The afternoon of this Wednesday, however, the Vatican confirmed to several media outlets that it had “no information” of Gänswein having been dismissed or suspended by Francis.

Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni did reveal, however, that there had been an “ordinary redistribution of the various commitments and duties of the Prefect of the Papal Household”.

Those “commitments and duties” include accompanying Pope Francis at his weekly Wednesday General Audience and welcoming foreign dignitaries for audiences with the pontiff.

Gänswein has not been seen performing those roles since January 15, when the Sarah book controversy blew up.

Go deeper

Gänswein’s nearly month-long absence from Francis’ side – which had not gone unnoticed on social media – led to speculation that the reigning pontiff had taken revenge on his prefect for his role in the “bookgate” scandal.

Gänswein had come under criticism for his accounts of the book’s organisation and authorship, which conflicted with those of Sarah.

Sarah claimed he had met personally and exchanged correspondence several times with Benedict to discuss the book’s contents – essays by both Sarah and Benedict and a supposed joint introduction and conclusion – as well as the volume’s cover design.

Gänswein denied Sarah’s assertions, and said the Pope Emeritus had merely intended to contribute an essay to the book, and not to be co-author.

The war of versions between Gänswein and Sarah raised eyebrows due to the fact that the Pope Emeritus’ ‘gatekeeper’ and organiser of his diary and correspondence appeared to questioning the credibility of the cardinal’s account.

But Gänswein stuck to his guns, and in comments reported January 17 by Die Tagespost described as “fictitious” and a “lie” the ultraconservative conspiracy theory that Pope Francis had put pressure on him to deny Benedict’s involvement in the Sarah project.

Anti-Francis journalist Antonio Socci had claimed, citing “reliable sources”, that “all hell broke loose in the Vatican” when Francis found out about the Benedict-Sarah book.

Francis was “furious” and “demanded a full and total retraction” on Benedict’s part, but to protect Gänswein from “South American vendettas” – Socci said – Benedict negotiated the compromise of removing his name from the cover but leaving his text in the book intact.

Why it matters

As a show of the talk of revenge or “vendettas” Francis has supposedly taken against Gänswein, the AP reported today that, with its statement that Gänswein’s duties had been redistributed, “the Holy See was trying to find an elegant way to justify Gaenswein’s unofficial removal from Francis’ team by saying he was dedicating himself more full-time to Benedict’s needs”.

But nothing further from the truth, according to semi-official Vatican blog Il Sismografo, which speculated that Gänswein’s recent absence from Francis’ side is due to the fact that “the Pope Emeritus is not well and that his health conditions have plummeted in recent weeks”.

“Therefore… Ganswein – not only [Benedict’s] personal secretary but also his ‘custodian’, the first person responsible for everything that Joseph Ratzinger has needed since he has not been independent for several months – is called to stay close, permanently, to the Emeritus”, Il Sismografo suggested.

It’s worth recalling that the Pope Emeritus will be 93 in April.

In a German documentary that aired in early January, the Emeritus appeared to be in very frail physical and intellectual health.

Next on Novena:

Benedict’s personal secretary denies Francis pressure to scratch Emeritus’ name from celibacy book cover

Benedict and Sarah lose out on celibacy: Francis ready to approve married priests

German laypeople accuse Benedict, Sarah of creating “division” in Church with “irresponsible” anti-optional celibacy stance

In midst of Sarah scandal, Pope laments “much harm” done by “incoherent and schizophrenic” pastors

Bombshell: Benedict asks for name, image to be removed from celibacy book Sarah said they co-wrote

Sicilian archbishop reminds Benedict, Sarah that Francis is pope: he makes the decisions on celibacy

“Totally disloyal”: Catholic Twittizens roast Benedict and Cardinal Sarah for new book stifling celibacy debate


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.