Vatican synod should be ‘based on gospel’

Private secretary to Pope Benedict says solutions ‘should not be oriented on spirit of times’

Archbishop Gaenswein, known to the media as ‘Gorgeous George’ because of his good looks, talked about the synod,  homosexuality, clerical sex abuse and  Benedict’s health in an interview with Chi magazine. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Archbishop Gaenswein, known to the media as ‘Gorgeous George’ because of his good looks, talked about the synod, homosexuality, clerical sex abuse and Benedict’s health in an interview with Chi magazine. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

 

Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, the private secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict, has suggested that the current Vatican synod on the family should offer solutions “not oriented on the spirit of the times but rather on the gospel”.

Speaking to the Berlusconi-owned Italian news magazine Chi, Archbishop Gaenswein, known to the media as “Gorgeous George” because of his good looks, talked not only about the synod but also about homosexuality, clerical sex abuse and about Benedict’s health.

The 58-year-old Archbishop represents a unique link between the pontificates of Popes Benedict and Francis because he continues to “double-job” as both private secretary to Benedict as well as Prefect of the current Papal Household of Francis. From his privileged vantage point, he does not expect any doctrinal change to emerge from this synod, saying:

“Much of what has been written about the synod is not accurate. Faced with the difficulties of the faithful, the Church cannot close her eyes. Yet, the Church has to offer sincere solutions which are based not on the spirit of the times but rather on the gospel...”

Given his obvious close links to Pope Benedict, many had expected that Pope Francis might want another person as the Prefect of the Papal Household. After all, there has never before been the situation which sees two Popes living side by side in the Vatican. Pope Benedict (87) now lives in a converted convent in the Vatican gardens, about half a kilometre away from the Domus Santa Marta residence where Francis lives.

However, Gorgeous George has thus far managed to steer a careful course between his two powerful masters, obviously much helped by the fact that, by all accounts, relations between the two Popes are very warm. Asked about the current well-being of Benedict, Archbishop Gaenwein says that his mind is “razor-sharp” but that, unfortunately, he has “problems” with his legs, so much so that he finds it difficult to walk. These days, says the Archbishop, the Pope Emeritus spends a lot of time reading, praying, corresponding with people and occasionally playing the piano – Beethoven, Mozart and Bach remain his favourites.

One of the great problems confronted by the Benedict pontificate, obviously, was that of the Church’s clerical sex abuse crisis. Asked by Chi as to why the Catholic Church was silent or covered up child sex crimes by its clergy, he says:

“I have asked myself that same question and I don’t have an answer to give you. I don’t know. Perhaps those in Church authority were simply afraid or perhaps they were just very ill-informed. When Pope John Paul II asked Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) to look into this phenomenon, I saw for myself that many of my colleagues just couldn’t believe it was true...”

Returning to synod themes, Archbishop Gaenswein says Pope Francis will follow the “teachings of his predecessors”. Marriage remains an indissoluble sacrament whilst homosexuality remains contrary to natural law, saying:

“The Church...has always stated that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to natural law because they preclude the creation of life from the sexual act...”

With reference to the historic resignation of Pope Benedict, Archbishop Gaenswein admits he knew for “months” Benedict would resign, adding that it was “difficult” to keep the information to himself. When Pope Benedict told him of his decision, he was sworn to secrecy, meaning he had to “handle a very awkward situation for some long time”.

As for the timing of the Archbishop’s interview, it is hardly coincidental that it has been published during the synod. Every day at the moment, different Church figures appear in print, with some in favour of changes in Church discipline (in relation to the ban on communion for the divorced, for example) and others against.

Earlier this year, Archbishop Gaenswein defended “Bishop Bling”, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the man accused of spending €31 million on his Bishop’s palace. That led many to argue that the former papal secretary’s sympathies lay with conservative, traditionalist Church forces. This latest interview will do little to change that perception.