Which tasks could Georg Gänswein, the private secretary of Benedict XVI soon take over? At 56 years, he is undoubtedly too young for the retirement, into which the Pope himself has passed last week. Initially, Gänswein remains at the side of his former boss and moved with him to Castel Gandolfo. But for how long?
In recent weeks, there has been speculation that the native of South Baden either will remain in the Vatican, where in view of his many contacts he is more likely to have a major impact, or that he will return to Germany to be a iocesan bishop. Maybe in Hamburg or in his home Archbishopric of Freiburg? The Archbishops Werner Thissen and Robert Zollitsch are 75 this year and therefore must offer their resignation to the pope.
On the other hand, these two dioceses are probably not the first choice of someone who has come to be known by the global Church as the closest collaborator of the Pope. Likely different from these, the Archdiocese of Cologne. Even here in the not too distant future, the post of Chief Pastor is free. Cardinal Joachim Meisner is 80 years old at Christmas and celebrates in February next year his 25th Anniversary as Archbishop in Cologne. By then he will probably resign.
The "Bild" newspaper reported yesterday that Meisner in these days had already prepared in Rome Gänswein's leap to the top of the Cologne Church and only had to obtain the agreement of the future Pope. Behind closed doors, part of the scenario was confirmed in the circles of the Cologne Archdiocese- but personnel around Gänswein dismissed it as speculation. It was assumed that Meisner will take care of the succession, while he was in office, was reported from Cologne.
That would mean that the cathedral chapter in the election of a new archbishop is irrelevant. In Cologne, the procedure is laid down that out of the various proposals sent to Rome, the Pope compiles a list of three from which the 15-member cathedral chapter, consisting of auxiliary bishops and other high-ranking priests in the archdiocese, selects a candidate.
The head of the Diocesan Council, the highest body of the laity in the Archdiocese, Thomas Nickel, does not believe that Meisner still cares about the succession plan. The Cathedral Chapter will be responsible for the election. And Gänswein? "I got to know him as a very likeable person and party," Nickel said yesterday. But there are also still other possible contenders for the archbishopric in Cologne.
By the way: The relationship between Meisner and Gänswein has apparently not been tension free recently. A few weeks ago,on the question of whether the change of position of Meisner's on the matter of the "morning after pill" had been agreed with the Vatican, Gänswein accused Meisner of having told a lie.