POPE BENEDICT XVI’s closest confidant Georg Gaenswein will continue to be the soon-to-be former pope’s secretary while also overseeing the new pope’s household, the Vatican has said.
“He will remain prefect of the papal household and will also be secretary to Benedict,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said at a press briefing.
“He has informed us he will take up residence with Benedict” in a monastery within the Vatican walls that is currently being renovated, Lombardi said.
Monsignor Gaenswein will therefore hold a dual role as part of an unprecedented situation in the history of the Catholic Church in which a pope and his predecessor will live within a stone’s throw of each other.
The Vatican has hinted that Benedict could continue to have a behind-the-scenes spiritual role as guide for his successor. The 85-year-old pope himself has said he will live “hidden from the world”.
Lombardi said Benedict’s four housekeepers – pious lay women known as “Memores Domini” – would also continue to work for the ex-pope in his new residence, a picturesque spot in Vatican City surrounded by flower beds.
Benedict promoted Gaenswein to prefect of the papal household in December – a move interpreted now as a key part of his plans to resign.
Like the pope, Gaenswein is German and has an academic background, with a doctorate in canon law. The son of a blacksmith, he was ordained in 1984 and rose through the ranks to become Joseph Ratzinger’s secretary in 2003.
When Ratzinger was elected to the papacy in 2005, he kept the trusted Gaenswein by his side, propelling him into the limelight, much to the delight of the international media, instantly smitten by the pope’s dashing assistant.
A refreshing change from the elderly dignitaries populating the often staid world of the Vatican, the 56-year-old, who can be seen constantly at the pope’s side, has a pilot’s licence, skis in his spare time and is a Pink Floyd fan.
Gaenswein also played a pivotal role in the investigation that identified the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, as the source of a series of damaging leaks of confidential papal documents that rocked the Vatican last year.
Gaenswein testified at Gabriele’s trial, an unprecedented court case in modern Church history where it emerged that he had suspicions on the butler’s guilt all along in a scandal that has come to be known as “Vatileaks”.
The scandal has been seen by many observers as one of many factors that helped Benedict come to the conclusion that he should step down.
The pope was said to be personally shaken by the betrayal of his butler.