Prefect of the papal household gives candid interview about Pope Francis and Benedict XVI

Archbishop George Gänswein, the prefect of the papal household and personal secretary to the pope emeritus, has said there is no disagreement between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried.

In an interview with the German magazine supplement, Christ & Welt, translated by the In Caelo et in Terra blog, Archbishop Gänswein said the notion that there was opposition between the two popes on the subject was “artificial”.

He said: “I do not share that impression. It creates an artificial opposition which does not exist. The Pope is the first guarantor and keeper of the doctrine of the Church and at the same the first shepherd, the first pastor. Doctrine and pastoral care are not in opposition, they are like twins.”

Archbishop Gänswein said it would be “absurd” to suggest that Pope Francis’s doctrinal statements contradicted his predecessors. He continued: “It is one thing to emphasise the pastoral efforts more clearly because the situation requires it. It is something else entirely to make a change in teaching. I can only act pastorally sensitive, consistent and conscientious when I do so on the basis of full Catholic teaching. The substance of the sacraments is not left to the discretion of pastors, but has been given to the Church by the Lord. That is also and especially true for the sacrament of marriage.”

The archbishop also dismissed the suggestion that Benedict XVI had changed the conclusion of an essay he wrote on Communion for the divorced and remarried in 1972 in order to influence the extraordinary synod. He said: “The revision of said article from 1972 was completed and sent to the publisher long before the synod. It must be remembered that every author has the right to make changes in his writings. Every informed person knows that Pope Benedict has not shared the conclusions of said contribution since 1981, which is more than 30 years! As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he has expressed this clearly in various comments.”

Archbishop Gänswein dismissed the rumour that concerned cardinals had sought the pope emeritus’s intervention during the extraordinary synod on the Family as “pure invention”.

The archbishop told the magazine that he struggled to cope after Benedict XVI resigned. He said: “It is true that the decision was difficult for me. It was not easy to accept it internally. I struggled to cope. The fight is now long since over.” He added: “On the day of his election as Pope I promised to help him in vita et in morte. Of course I did not take a retirement into account at that time. But the promise is still true and remains valid.”

Archbishop Gänswein said that despite the critical talk which Francis delivered to the Curia before Christmas, there was no rift between him and them, He said: “It was a treat for the media, of course. During the talk I could already see the headlines: Pope castigates Curia prelates; Pope reads his co-workers the law! Sadly, outwardly it gave the impression that there was a rift between the Pope and the Curia. That impression is deceiving, and does not coincide with reality. But the address drowned that out.”

He said that the reactions from the Curia “ranged from surprise to shock and incomprehension”.

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